Lois Curtis – known as “L.C.” in a historic disability rights case — has died. She passed away from cancer at her home in November 2022 at age 55.
Curtis, who had intellectual and psychiatric impairments, was institutionalized from her teenage years into her early 20s. She and another plaintiff, Elaine Wilson, eventually went on to fight for their right to live in their community rather than being unnecessarily institutionalized.
In 1999, the Supreme Court ruled in its landmark Olmstead v. L.C. decision. The Court found that people with disabilities have the right to live in the least restrictive setting possible. The ruling meant that disabled people could live at home and receive home-based care in their respective communities, as opposed to institutions such as nursing facilities. It remains one of the most important civil rights cases in U.S. disability rights history.
According to the court, institutional settings cannot violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against people based on their disability.
“Confinement in an institution,” wrote the high court at the time, “severely diminishes the everyday life activities of individuals, including family relations, social contacts, work options, economic independence, educational advancement, and cultural enrichment.”
After leaving institutional care, Curtis pursued a successful career in visual art and public speaking. The White House honored her in 2011.
Today, thanks to the Olmstead ruling, many individuals with disabilities can seek care and employment as integrated members of their community.
Even so, hundreds of thousands of disabled people still face long waiting lists for home-based care. Many of them continue to be forced to live in institutions. In the name of remarkable individuals like Curtis, disability advocates continue to push for equal opportunities, rights, and accommodations nationwide.
Learn more about the Olmstead decision.