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Momentous Supreme Court decision remains off media radar screen
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Nov. 14, 2000 -- On June 22, 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court the Supreme Court affirmed the right of individuals with disabilities to live in their community in its 6-3 ruling against the state of Georgia in the case Olmstead v. L.C and E.W. The "integration mandate" of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires public agencies to provide services "in the most integrated setting appropriate," said the court.

The decision is momentous: it gives people leverage to stay out of nursing homes and receive services at home. Yet the Olmstead decision has received almost no attention in the national media, other than a flurry of reporting the day the decision was handed down.

In a Jan. 14 letter to U. S. governors, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services Sec. Donna Shalala pointed out that states were responsible for obeying the Olmstead decision. An accompanying letter from the federal Medicaid office told states that they must have "a comprehensive, effectively working plan" for people to get services "in less restrictive settings."

Two months later, on Sunday Feb. 13, The New York Times ran a story by veteran Washington reporter Robert Pear on the HHS move. "Following up on a Supreme Court decision, the Clinton administration has told states to evaluate hundreds of thousands of people in nursing homes, mental hospitals and state institutions to see whether they could be receiving care in their own homes or elsewhere in their communities," began Pear's story, which was headlined, "Government Edict Seeks Home Care for Many Disabled." But rather than reporting this as the major shift in federal policy that it signalled, Pear's reporting focused on the response of "state officials," who "said the federal policy went beyond the court ruling and could impose substantial new costs on states." (Read Robert Pear's article at the New York Times website at -- requires free registration.)

This story, nearly a year ago, remains the single piece of national reporting on the implication of the Olmstead decision. There were no editorials about the decision; no major opinion pieces. No national columnists discussed the implications of the ruling. A search of national news sources turns up only letters to the editor and short guest opinion pieces from disability activists commenting on the implications of the Olmstead decision.

Missouri activists, who, as a result of mobilizing in the wake of the Olmstead decision, got their state to pass a law removing the "institutional bias" from the Missouri Medicaid program, got one paragraph for the Olmstead decision in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's fine 3-part series that ran Sept. 3-5. In a story headlined, " 10 Years After Landmark Law, Gains Are Made, Barriers Remain," reporters Jennifer Lafleur And Lorraine Kee wrote that "Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the issue in a case known as the Olmstead Decision. The court said that unjustified institutionalization of a person with a disability who can live in the community is discrimination. Missouri is among the first states to apply Olmstead language to the state budget, allowing Medicaid money to follow a person into the community."

To understand more fully the impact this decision can have on a person's right to remain out of an institution or nursing home, visit the Center for An Accessible Society's Olmstead web page.

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