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Celebrating Olmstead and our Commitment to Community Living

Thirteen years ago today, a landmark Supreme Court decision established that people with disabilities have the right to live in the community with the proper services and supports, rather than being unnecessarily institutionalized

As I travel the country and visit people in their homes, schools, workplaces and health centers, I am reminded just how much our lives are shaped by the places we occupy.  Oftentimes, our opportunities are defined by the homes and communities in which we live. 

Thirteen years ago, on June 22, 1999, people with disabilities moved closer to choosing where they live when the Supreme Court handed down the Olmstead v LC decision. This ruling established that people with disabilities have the right to live in the community with the proper services and supports, rather than being unnecessarily institutionalized.   

Building on the President’s Year of Community Living, this spring the Obama Administration created the Administration for Community Living (ACL) at the Department of Health and Human Services, bringing together its experts charged with developing policies and improving supports for seniors as well as people with disabilities. Among other activities, ACL promotes the goals of the Americans with Disabilities Act: to assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities. 

We know that to make community living a success, we must integrate long-term services and supports with health care and housing.  High quality, coordinated health care for seniors and people with disabilities can allow them to avoid long-term stays in nursing homes and other institutions in the first place.  Other times this coordination comes after someone has been living in an institution for years, as HHS’ partnership with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) focuses on. 

Today HUD Secretary Donovan and I help lead our agencies to coordinate rental assistance, health care and other supportive services for people with disabilities. Together, we have improved integration in HUD’s 811 rental housing program for very low-income adults with disabilities, which last month announced a new $85 million funding opportunity

More than 20,000 people have already transitioned out of institutions through the Money Follows the Person program. The Affordable Care Act has extended the program five years and added $2.25 billion to help even more people move into the community. The Affordable Care Act also created financial incentives for states to help people who otherwise face institutional placement to get personal attendant services so they can live independently in their homes and communities. 

America was built on the promise of equality and full participation for all.  With every Olmstead anniversary comes a celebration of the progress we’ve made to help people with disabilities of all ages to have those opportunities.  More work remains, but so does our unwavering commitment:  we will continue to move forward until the promise of Olmstead is a reality for all Americans.