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Statement of Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) At the HELP Committee Roundtable: “Moving Toward Greater Community Inclusion – Olmstead at 15”

“The title of today’s roundtable is ‘Moving Toward Greater Community Inclusion – Olmstead at 15.’  Our discussion will focus on developments in advancing the community integration of people with disabilities and the impact of the Olmstead decision.  I will also be interested to hear what the panelists think needs to be accomplished to make home- and community-based supports the norm for people with disabilities. 

“This past Sunday marked the 15th Anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Olmstead v. L.C.  This 1999 Supreme Court decision held that the unnecessary segregation of people with disabilities from society violates their civil rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

“When Congress passed the ADA, we described the segregation of people with disabilities as a serious and pervasive form of discrimination. Title II of the ADA says that no person with a disability ‘shall, on the basis of disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any public entity.’ 

“One of the most important aspects of the ADA is the ‘integration mandate,’ which requires public entities to ensure the administration of all programs and services in the most integrated manner possible. 

“In Olmstead, the Supreme Court found that preventing people with disabilities from living in the community with their non-disabled peers constituted discrimination and was a violation of their civil rights under Title II of the ADA.

“The Court wrote that ‘unjustified institutional isolation of persons with disabilities is a form of discrimination…institutional placement of persons who can handle and benefit from community settings perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life [and] severely diminishes the everyday life activities of individuals, including family relations, social contacts, work options, economic independence, educational advancement, and cultural enrichment.’

“There remain problems, however.  Despite the Olmstead decision, over 75 percent of states spend a majority of their long-term care dollars on institutional care and support and the number of people with disabilities under the age of 65 increased between 2008 and 2012. 

“That is why, today, I have introduced the Community Integration Act, a bill that ensures people with disabilities can choose to live in the community and receive the same supports and services they would receive in institutional settings.  Our national policies should no longer have a bias toward institutional care.  Individuals should be able to make a choice about where their long-term supports and services are available and my bill would ensure that for all people with disabilities.

“This afternoon, we will hear from a number of individuals who have spent time in institutions, some young people who expect to be served in their communities, and providers who are working to ensure people with disabilities have the same access to the community as their non-disabled peers. I eagerly look forward to our discussion.”