25th Anniversary of Olmstead: Reflecting on the Inconsistent Commitment to Certain New Yorkers

Young adults Joey, Andy, Sam, Emma, and Natasha are best friends who do everything together. But if they want to become roommates, they will have to forgo any of the government benefits to which they are entitled as individuals with developmental disabilities. No such rule exists for other protected groups, such as veterans or senior citizens. Families for Disability Rights urges New York to address this issue.

Twenty-five years ago, the Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling known as the Olmstead Decision. Olmstead was meant to usher in a new era of opportunities for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities, allowing people to transition into more inclusive environments, if they choose to and were deemed ready by medical professionals. While New York’s Office for People with Developmental Disabilities celebrates Olmstead‘s silver jubilee, the State continues to enact policies that misinterpret the ruling’s intent.

In New York State, the above-mentioned five friends with special needs do not have the right to choose where they live and with whom. Olmstead centers on individual choice. The reality in New York veers away from this. Imagine being told you can no longer enjoy your morning coffee at your quiet kitchen table because it is not “inclusive” enough. Instead, you must now go every morning to a bustling coffee shop on the corner. This analogy captures the essence of the current situation— New York policies force people into more inclusive settings without considering personal preference.

To make matters worse, New York continues to push for managed care for people with developmental disabilities. This shift would take decision-making power away from individuals and hand it over to Managed Care Organizations whose primary focus is cost reduction rather than providing the individual with autonomy or meeting their needs. 

One positive sign has been the appointment of Kim Hill as NY’s Chief Disability Officer. Ms. Hill actively encourages community and advocate participation in the process of crafting the next Olmstead report. Unfortunately, in the meantime, state policies continue to move in the wrong direction, eroding individual choice with each passing month.

This anniversary should serve as a call to action. Let’s put pressure on the State to actually honor the Olmstead Decision and the self-determination it was meant to uphold.

SOURCE Families for Disability Rights

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