Lois Curtis, who, with Elaine Wilson, served as lead plaintiffs in the landmark Olmstead v. L.C. ex rel. Zimring litigation on behalf of people with disabilities, died today. In the Olmstead litigation, Ms. Curtis fought against the presumption that people should live separate and apart from their community – solely because of their disabilities. She fiercely advocated for self-determination. Ms. Curtis, who was born and lived in Georgia, was also a visual artist whose work was exhibited in galleries across Georgia and beyond.
In Olmstead, the Supreme Court recognized that “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.”
It further recognized that “confinement in an institution severely diminishes the everyday life activities of individuals, including family relations, social contacts, work options, economic independence, educational advancement, and cultural enrichment.”
Ms. Curtis helped to establish a legal recognition that institutions are not where people with disabilities want to or should live their lives.
The battle for community integration that Ms. Curtis and others began long ago continues. Many named plaintiffs and advocates today are still fighting to make the promise of community integration a reality throughout the country. People with disabilities still face unnecessary institutionalization and segregation from the communities where they live, work, learn, and play. They also resist social, economic, and cultural restrictions that are unduly restrictive and unjustified.
While mourning Ms. Curtis’s passing, the National Health Law Program and other self-advocates and advocacy organizations remain committed to ensuring that people with disabilities live independently and fully participate in all sectors of our public life.