What are Olmstead Rights?

"Olmstead Rights” are the rights that arise from the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Olmstead v. LC. These are the rights people with disabilities have to live in the community rather than in institutions and nursing homes, in most instances. These rights come from the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), which give people with disabilities in the United States the rights to reasonable accommodations and reasonable modifications, to not be discriminated against, and to receive government services in the most integrated setting.

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How will Olmstead help me or my loved one with a disability?

State and federally funded disability services are transforming in every state as a result of Olmstead.  State and federal funded services are becoming more available in communities in place of services that were traditionally provided in nursing facilities and institutions.  This transformation is not complete, however, and community supports may not yet exist or be easy to find in your area.  Our hope is that this website will provide you with tools and resources to find supports and services in your community and to advocate for what you need through a lawyer or on your own if your particular community has further to go for you to fully exercise your Olmstead rights.

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What can I find on this website?

This website is broken into three main sections.

  1. The first section is the “I am Olmstead” section which tells the stories of people whose lives have been transformed due to Olmstead.  There is no better way to understand Olmstead than to see how it is impacting individuals.
  2. The second section is the “Self-Advocacy” section.  The disability community has an important phrase that many members of its community repeat over and over again:  “nothing about us without us.”  For too many years, people without disabilities made decisions about where people with disabilities would live, go to school, and work.  The self-advocacy section provides people with disabilities resources and tools to advocate for themselves with respect to these decisions and in the context of Olmstead.
  3. The third section is for Olmstead legal advocates to find the resources and tools to use Olmstead in lawsuits and other legal advocacy, including an Olmstead legal outline and Olmstead pleadings.

In addition to these main sections, we hope you will learn more about Olmstead by going to the About Olmstead section to learn the history of Olmstead, the state of Olmstead today, and about where Olmstead may be heading in the future.

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What is the “I am Olmstead” Education Campaign?"

“I am Olmstead” is an education campaign through social media, this website, and events to tell the stories of people whose lives have been transformed due to Olmstead.  There is no better way to understand Olmstead than to see how it is impacting individuals.

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How can I use Olmstead to advocate for my rights or the rights of someone I care about?

The Self-Help Section of this website is designed specifically to provide tools to individuals with disabilities and their loved ones to advocate for their Olmstead rights.  Due to federal restrictions, this website does not suggest ways to advocate for changes in the law, but it does provide tools to exercise one’s rights within the law as it exists. 

There are times when it is necessary to have a lawyer and it is always best, when possible, to consult a lawyer about a particular situation.

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Why is it called “Olmstead”?

Tommy Olmstead was the Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Human Resources who was the Defendant in Olmstead v. LC.  The Plaintiffs were Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson.  When the lawsuit was filed, the only Plaintiff was Lois Curtis (Elaine Wilson joined the case later) and only the initials for Ms. Curtis were used for confidentiality reasons.  Even though Commissioner Olmstead lost the lawsuit, his name stuck for what the lawsuit was called since his name was the only full name involved.

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How did the Olmstead case end up in the United States Supreme Court?

Less than one in every one million lawsuits go all the way to the United States Supreme Court.  While virtually all cases are entitled to some type of appeal, other appellate courts or tribunals hear most of these cases.  The U.S. Supreme Court is the court of last resort for all cases involving federal law, the United States Constitution, and conflicts between the states.  The Supreme Court has the option of whether or not to accept an “extra” appeal.  Usually, it declines to hear such appeals.  It generally only accepts appeals when two regional appellate courts have reached different conclusions on the same issue.  This creates what is called a “conflict” between the appellate courts.

The Olmstead case was different than typical cases because no conflict existed when the Supreme Court accepted the appeal.  There had only been one similar case.  A federal appellate court over Pennsylvania (the 3rd Circuit) had ruled in favor of a woman in a nursing home in a case called Helen L. that the woman had the right to receive services in the community.  The federal appellate court over Georgia (the 11th Circuit) made a similar ruling in favor of Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson in Olmstead.  The Supreme Court must have decided that the issue was extremely important when it decided to hear the appeal despite the fact that both the 3rd Circuit and the 11th Circuit had ruled the same way.

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Who was “L.C.”? Why is the name abbreviated?

“L.C.” stands for Lois Curtis.  Lois was one of the two plaintiffs in the Olmstead case.  Her name was abbreviated when the case was filed for privacy reasons.  The other plaintiff  was Elaine Wilson.

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What is the difference between Olmstead and a Medicaid Waiver?

A Medicaid Waiver is a package of certain Medicaid funded services that may be used to enable a person to live in the community.  States can use Medicaid Waivers to comply with Olmstead to provide Medicaid funded services such as personal supports, nursing, and even employment supports in the community.  However, Medicaid Waivers have their limitations.  Traditionally, Medicaid Waivers have only been available to people with physical disabilities, developmental disabilities, and intellectual disabilities.  People with mental health disabilities who do not also have another type of disability usually do not qualify for Medicaid Waivers (although Congress has passed a number of reforms to try to change this).

Additionally, everyone, who has a disability that qualifies for institutional care in a state (even when they don’t go into the institution!), has Olmstead rights.  But states are allowed by federal law to limit the number of Medicaid Waivers they give to people and create waiting lists for individuals when there are not Medicaid Waivers.  Significant Olmstead legal issues arise due to the fact that states can limit their number of Medicaid Waivers but may have to accept everyone who qualifies into Medicaid funded institutions.

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