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With the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the disability community remembers her most important decision on the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Baltimore Sun
The Baltimore Sun

September 22, 2020 | The Baltimore Sun

With the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (“Ruth Bader Ginsburg funeral services set; President Trump expects to announce Supreme Court pick by the weekend,” Sept. 21), the disability community remembers her most important decision on the U.S. Supreme Court. In her 1999 majority opinion, she stated “we confront the question whether the proscription of discrimination may require placement of persons with mental disabilities in community settings rather than in institutions. The answer, we hold, is a qualified yes.”

This was, in essence, the emancipation proclamation for persons with disabilities. Known as the Olmstead v. L.C. decision, the ramifications were to enable persons with disabilities not to languish within horrific institutions but rather to live, work and thrive in the community.

Large institutions were opened in the late 1800s and grew to incarcerate hundreds of thousands of persons with disabilities throughout the United States. In the late 1970′s, lawsuits in Philadelphia, New York, Alabama and New Mexico unveiled the disease, abuse, and neglect within these institutions and brought these terrible conditions to the attention of the public.

Lawsuits were successfully executed in the favor of persons with disabilities to be freed from these institutions. Implementation, however, was resisted based on cost and unfounded fear from communities and families alike.

Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg gave families the option to look at small homes rather than large congregate institutions as an alternative for living a full life. Horrific places like Pennhurst and Willowbrook were closed. Still, with the slow political climate, well over 50,000 people with disabilities live in large institutions and over 200,000 people with disabilities under the age of 50 languish in nursing homes today.

With the decision of Justice Ginsburg, families and nonprofits continue to work in tandem ensuring that the best option for persons with disabilities is to live with their own families or in small managed care homes. It was a seminal moment in history for the civil rights for persons with disabilities. May she rest in peace.

Robert Stack, Frederick

The writer is president and CEO of Community Options Inc.