Segregation is Discrimination

In the summer of 1999, the United States Supreme Court in Olmstead v. L.C., held that unjustified segregation of persons with disabilities constitutes discrimination in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Plaintiffs Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson were voluntarily admitted to the psychiatric unit of state-run Georgia Regional Hospital. Following assessments by professionals, it was determined the plaintiffs were better suited for treatment in a community-based program. In each case, the women remained confined in the institution for years after the initial treatment was concluded. They filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for release from the hospital.

The court held that mental illness is a form of disability and that “unjustified isolation” of a person with a disability is a form of discrimination under Title II of the ADA. In the court’s opinion “institutional placement of persons who can handle and benefit from community settings perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable of or unworthy of participating in community life.” And, “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.”