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We find ourselves in the middle of two major disability anniversaries as we commemorate Independence Day on July 4.

Over a week ago, the 23rd anniversary of the Olmstead decision took place. The decision validated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Supreme Court ruled that the ADA prohibits the unnecessary segregation of people with disabilities. Though the decision uses the word “unnecessary,” implying that segregation may be necessary for some people or at some periods, it also established that individuals with disabilities have the right to live and receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate.

The same year of the Olmstead decision, The Arc was fighting for more community options in the Commonwealth, having recruited Attorney Neil McKittrick (now with Ogletree Deakins) to represent thousands of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities on a DDS waiting list for services. On July 19, 2000, Judge Douglas Woodlock issued a summary judgment in favor of those waiting, and by the end of that year, 2,437 more persons would be entitled to receive residential supports or enter community homes.

On July 26, we mark the 32nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The landmark legislation provides a pathway to inclusion and opportunity that needs to be realized.

As the ADA was being passed in the 1990s, The Arc also was fighting successfully to close the state’s institutions and transition persons served to smaller community homes and other settings.

Today, 301 persons continue to live in two state institutions, and during the pandemic, they have experienced a combined 47% positive infection total, higher than individualized or smaller congregate settings. Over 9,000 people are served by DDS in home and community settings. Of course, many more live semi-independently or with family throughout the state.

The ADA and the Olmstead decision allow The Arc and our constituents to advocate for equity and integration throughout our society.  They provide the opportunity, but it’s up to us to fully realize the promise of the law and the decision in every community.  We are dedicated to advancing that goal.

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