'We can’t warehouse humans': Disability community marks historic High Court ruling

Jun 23, 2020

Monday marked the 21st anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that allowed people with disabilities the right to live in their community and not be subject to unjustified isolation. But advocates said much more must be done, especially in the age of COVID-19.

The Center for Disability Rights hosted a webinar Monday that looked at the impact of the Olmstead v. L.C. decision, and attendees discussed ways to ensure that everyone has a right to live and participate in the community.

Britney Wilson of the National Center for Law and Economic Justice said her aunt, who was in a nursing home, lost her life to the new coronavirus.

She said this shows what happens when you lock people away and treat them like they don’t exist.

“I think the crisis has illustrated everything that the disability community has been saying for decades,” she said.

Gregg Beratan, CDR’s director of advocacy, said the impact of institutionalization is especially noteworthy during the coronavirus pandemic by the disproportionate number of deaths in nursing homes.

“If we take one lesson from this crisis, it’s that we can’t warehouse humans. Disabled people have a right to community,” he said.

Looking ahead, the center’s national policy director, Dara Baldwin, said much like the Black Lives Matter movement, people in the disability community need to take charge to make sure that disabled people and the elderly get adequate care.

“It is specifically irritating in the disability community when you have a bunch of able-bodied white, wealthy privileged people who are at the center of being in charge of what happens to disabled bodies,” she said.

CDR is advocating for passage of the Disability Integration Act, which would provide home- and community-based services to people with disabilities and senior citizens as an alternative to institutionalization.