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Missourians segregated due to disability may have discrimination claims

The number of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities living in non-family home settings with six or fewer people grew from 27% in 1999 to 82% in 2018. (karelnoppe/Adobe Stock)

Deborah Van Fleet, Missouri News Service

In Missouri and around the country, people with disabilities are living in institutions who could successfully live in the community with the right support. According to the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, they may even be victims of discrimination.

Attorney M. Geron Gadd, senior attorney, National Health Law Program, said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services “revitalizing” enforcement of the ADA and the Olmstead decision shows people are still experiencing this type of discrimination, and they have the right to seek legal recourse.

“For people with a range of disabilities, there is a legal mechanism under federal law that entitles them to be served in their homes and in other community-based settings, rather than essentially being locked away in institutions,” Gadd said.

The Supreme Court’s 1999 Olmstead decision affirmed the ADA requires people with disabilities to be served in the most integrated setting appropriate for them. The individual, a family member or another concerned person may file a discrimination claim. Gadd pointed out that every state is required to have an advocacy organization to provide legal assistance for people with disabilities. In Missouri, it is the Missouri Protection and Advocacy Services.

Gadd added another important consequence of the Olmstead decision is the clarification that a person does not have to already be institutionalized to file a discrimination claim.

“If you’re at risk of an unnecessary institutionalization, then you can take action under the ADA to obtain the services in the most integrated setting appropriate to your needs,” Gadd continued.

And she stressed that states claiming they cannot afford community-based services doesn’t exempt them from this requirement under the ADA.

When Missourian Diana Willard was young, some told her parents she should be institutionalized when she tested as developmentally disabled. Instead, her family helped her thrive. Willard became a certified nursing assistant, worked full-time for years and served on the Missouri Developmental Disabilities Council. She encouraged parents of children with developmental and intellectual disabilities to not hold them back.

“People with developmental disabilities have the right to live a life to the fullest extent that they can. As they grow up, they need to be allowed to transition into adulthood,” Willard said.

Discrimination claims can also be filed with the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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