Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson were living in an institution run by the state of Georgia. They wanted to get out and live in the community. Their desire to live and participate fully in their community was opposed by every court along the way.
On June 22, 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that institutionalization of people with disabilities was a violation of their civil rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In addition, the high court ruled that every state must create a “Olmstead Plan.” Such a plan would include giving people with disabilities existing in institutions the opportunity to live in the community.
Unfortunately, Illinois has not created such a plan. The 22 Centers for Independent Living in the state have successfully helped hundreds of people with disabilities leave nursing homes and set up their own residences. These citizens are free to participate in all areas of life.
Unfortunately, this program is in jeopardy because of the ongoing budget impasse. Each party blames the other, which does absolutely no good for people with disabilities in nursing homes who want to escape. The impasse is also affecting staff members who work with their fellow citizens in their quest to live independently.
The game of politics must stop.
Legislators and the governor must do their jobs and pass a budget.
Lois and Elaine (now deceased) are considered heroines in the history of the independent living movement. Illinois must honor their legacy and pass a budget so more people such as Elaine and Lois can realize their dream of living outside of an institution.
To do less would be a disgrace to anyone who believes in justice.
Pam Heavens is executive director of the Will-Grundy Center for Independent Living.