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45 Years of Impact Spotlight

Establishing the ADA’s Integration Mandate

Although DRP and other disability rights advocates had achieved significant success in battling unnecessary institutionalization using the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as we wrote in our January 2022 Newsletter, a significant obstacle emerged due to the Supreme Court’s decision in DeShaney v. Winnebago County in 1989.  In that case, the Court substantially limited who can assert due process rights in court, which made it more difficult to bring such claims on behalf of individuals in institutions.

Fortunately, soon after DeShaney, Congress enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Department of Justice promulgated the “integration mandate,” a regulation that requires public entities to provide services to individuals in the most integrated settings appropriate to their needs.   DRP, together with Stephen F. Gold, litigated the first case in the county to successfully use the integration mandate as a vehicle to address unnecessary institutionalization.

We filed Helen L. v. DiDario in 1993 on behalf of a nursing facility resident who was unable to return to her family home because she could not get in-home attendant care services.  Because the client was not involuntarily committed to the nursing home, the Due Process Clause was not a viable claim.  So, we asserted that the state violated the ADA’s integration mandate by only offering her services in a nursing facility when the community was the most integrated setting for her .  The trial court ruled against our client, finding that the ADA only applied when there was discrimination between people with disabilities and non-disabled people and, since only people with disabilities are institutionalized, there was no discrimination.  In 1994, the ruling was reversed on appeal.  The Court of Appeals unequivocally found that the ADA’s integration mandate barred unnecessary institutionalization.  Following Helen L., advocates and attorneys throughout the country began filing lawsuits under the ADA’s integration mandate to challenge unnecessary institutionalization.  One of those cases from Georgia – Olmstead v. L.C. – ended up in the Supreme Court, which agreed with the ruling in Helen L. that the ADA’s integration mandate applied to unnecessary institutionalization.