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Lois Curtis, who received a landmark civil rights case for individuals with disabilities, dies at 55

Lois Curtis was the plaintiff in a civil rights case that gave individuals with disabilities and older individuals the precise to stay outdoors of establishments and in their very own houses. Curtis died Thursday of most cancers.

John Poole/NPR

Lawyer Sue Jamieson was touring a grim state hospital in Georgia three a long time in the past when she was launched to a younger lady, Lois Curtis, who’d spent a lot of her teen years and early 20’s in state establishments.

“As we at all times say, ‘What’s it you assume we might do for you? I work at Authorized Support. And I am a lawyer,'” Jamieson recalled for an oral historical past for her employer, the Atlanta Authorized Support Society. “And she or he’d say: ‘Get me out of right here. Would you please get me out of right here? When am I getting out of right here?'”

Curtis, who had an mental incapacity and was recognized with psychological sickness, saved calling Jamieson from the hospital, asking when she might get out.

The lawsuit that Jamieson filed on behalf of Curtis and one other lady – LC v. Olmstead – led to a landmark Supreme Court docket resolution benefitting aged and disabled individuals, and in the end helped Curtis transfer out of institutional care and into her own residence de ella.

Curtis, 55, died in her own residence outdoors of Atlanta on Thursday. The trigger was pancreatic most cancers.

The Supreme Court docket dominated in 1999, in a choice delivered by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, that Curtis, her co-plaintiff Elaine Wilson and different individuals with disabilities had a proper—beneath the Individuals with Disabilities Act—to stay in a “much less restrictive setting” .”

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The landmark civil rights case gave disabled and aged individuals a proper to hunt long-term care companies in their very own dwelling, as a substitute of in an establishment like a nursing dwelling or a psychiatric hospital.

Curtis “created a sea change in what our service methods appear to be,” says Alison Barkoff, the highest federal official for getting old and incapacity coverage.

“We went from a system in 1999 that the one locations that most individuals with disabilities and older adults might get companies have been in establishments like nursing houses and psychiatric hospitals, to methods which are primarily centered on supporting individuals with companies in their very own houses,” says Barkoff, the appearing administrator and assistant secretary of getting old on the Administration for Group Residing on the US Division of Well being and Human Providers.

After the Olmstead resolution, state Medicaid budgets shifted. As we speak, extra money goes to pay for care at dwelling. Much less authorities funding goes to pay for care in establishments.

Federal regulation makes nursing dwelling care an entitlement for individuals who meet the eligibility necessities for Medicaid. Residence-based care, though it’s extra widespread and have become a proper beneath the Olmstead resolution, shouldn’t be an entitlement.

Consequently, there are lengthy ready lists for care at dwelling—not less than 700,000 individuals ready in some 40 states. However the Olmstead resolution requires each state to maneuver towards offering extra of that care at dwelling.

The Olmstead resolution is cited in scores of lawsuits to get others out of institutional care. And its use has unfold. The US Division of Justice, within the Obama Administration, utilized the choice’s wording that folks with disabilities are entitled to stay within the “much less restrictive setting” to sue to finish segregated work packages that pay individuals with disabilities a sub-minimum wage. Now mother and father use Olmstead to claim their youngsters needs to be in built-in lecture rooms.

The argument behind the Olmstead resolution was that when individuals stay totally built-in of their communities, they stay higher, extra fulfilling lives.

Curtis proved it. She moved right into a sequence of homes, needing assist from a caregiver with issues like cooking, buying and different care. And there she found her expertise as an artist—one thing she didn’t get to develop when she lived in state hospitals.

Curtis made pencil and pastel drawings of animals and flowers. And generally she drew individuals whose footage she noticed in magazines and books—like a critical Martin Luther King together with his arms crossed or a shirtless, younger Muhammad Ali.

In 2011, she was invited to the White Home on the anniversary of the Olmstead resolution. She introduced President Barack Obama a framed image she referred to as “Lady in an Orange Gown.” It was considered one of a sequence of self-portraits Curtis did of herself as a younger woman, as a result of she had no images for the reason that years she lived within the state psychiatric hospitals.

Curtis used her paintings to satisfy individuals, says Lee Sanders, who was first employed to assist Curtis discover work after which grew to become a good friend. Curtis, Sanders wrote, “created paintings as she lived: Her traces de ella drawn with out hesitation, her colours daring and saturated, her photos uncomplicated and spirited.”

Curtis was very social and, together with her fast smile, was gifted at making pals. They purchased her artwork provides from her and helped her promote her artwork work from her.

When Curtis died on Thursday, she was surrounded by lots of these pals.

In a video she made for the Nationwide Incapacity Rights Community in 2020, Curtis stated: “My identify is Lois Curtis… I am glad to be free.”

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