The New York Association on Independent Living (NYAIL), alongside the New York chapter of the long-standing disability rights advocacy group ADAPT (American Disabled for Attended Programs Today), have been working together to advance the independence of individuals with disabilities through grassroots advocacy campaigns and political action for many years and is now pushing the Cuomo administration to hold true to their promises.
NYAIL and ADAPT members from across the State gathered on May 31 in the Governor’s War Room on the second floor of the Capitol Building to demand the implementation and en-forcement of the Supreme Courts Olmstead decision which states that individuals with dis-abilities in need of care have the civil right to live in the community rather than in an institutionalized setting.
In his State of the State address, Governor Cuomo pledged to further the integration of individuals with disabilities into their own communities where they can work, study, and live as all other members of society. The Governor recognized the need to uphold the Olmstead decision and NYAIL and ADAPT members as well as family and friends met together to let the Governor know that his actions are being followed closely. For over an hour, advocates chanted in the war room for the freedom of people with disabilities with slogans such as “Access is a Civil Right,” “Freedom Delayed is Freedom Denied,” and “Who do we want!?… Cuomo! When do we want him!?… Now!”
At the heart of the Olmstead argument lies what’s known as the “integration mandate” incor-porated into the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which requires agencies to provide services “in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of qualified individuals with disabilities.”
The Olmstead lawsuit was filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Title II of the ADA after Lois Cur-tis, 31, and Elaine Wilson, 47 (two women with developmental disabilities) “were voluntarily admitted to Georgia Regional Hospital at Atlanta (GRH), where they were confined for treat-ment in a psychiatric unit. Although their treatment professionals eventually concluded that each of the women could be cared for appropriately in a community-based program, the woman remained institutionalized at GRH.”
Following multiple court interpretations, the suit reached the Supreme Court where it was considered, examined, and eventually upheld in a 6-3 decision. Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the court concluding that “under Title II of the ADA, States are required to place persons with mental disabilities in community settings rather than in institutions when the State’s treatment professionals have determined that community placement is appropriate, the transfer from institutional care to a less restrictive setting is not opposed by the affected individual, and the placement can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the State and the needs of others with mental disabilities.”
Recent news of the Governor’s proposed Jus-tice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs has raised both high hopes and expectations. The proposal could ulti-mately transform the way New York handles allegations of abuse and neglect of individu-als being cared for under state run, certified, or licensed facilities, and programs. For too long people with disabilities have been victims of repeated abuse when allegations are poorly investigated or dismissed. Criminal assaults are not referred to law enforcement or prosecuted. This results in a revolving door of criminal caregivers never thoroughly screened out of the system. The Governor’s proposal is an adamant step forward and shows that issues close to disability rights groups are being watched. At the same time, it is a notice to all of us in the advo-cacy community that much more has yet to be done.