Monday, February 4, 2013

NCD Report on Deinstitutionalization: Part 2

“Two Key Truths….”

In its report on Deinstitutionalization, the National Council on Disability states that "two key truths” emerge as the underpinnings for the Americans with Disabilities Act, the 1999 Olmstead Supreme Court decision, and for the rationale to close institutions:

  1. People with ID/DD [Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities] have a legal right to live in the community and to receive necessary services and supports. 
  2. Life in the community provides opportunities for dignity, freedom, choice, and a sense of belonging that are not possible in an institutional environment.
The first “truth” is only half true. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. It requires state and local governments to “administer services, programs, and activities in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of qualified individuals with disabilities”, but it does not define what an appropriate setting is for every person with a disability. Identifying needs and the appropriateness of settings can only be determined on an individual basis.

The Olmstead decision determined that unjustified institutionalization is discrimination. Transfer to a community placement from an institution is required only if the State’s treatment professionals have determined that community placement is appropriate, the individual affected does not oppose the transfer, and the placement can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the state and the needs of other with mental disabilities.

In dismissing the idea that anyone needs an institutional placement, the NCD report (page 56) says that, “Some of those who oppose institutional closure claim that some people with ID/DD are so severely disabled that they cannot handle or benefit from community living and that institutions are the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs.” The whole truth is that those who oppose institutional closure include the Supreme Court Justices who stated in the Olmstead decision:

“We emphasize that nothing in the ADA or its implementing regulations condones termination of institutional settings for persons unable to handle or benefit from community settings...Nor is there any federal requirement that community-based treatment be imposed on patients who do not desire it.” 119 S. Ct. at 2187.


“As already observed by the majority, the ADA is not reasonably read to impel States to phase out institutions, placing patients in need of close care at risk... ‘Each disabled person is entitled to treatment in the most integrated setting possible for that person — recognizing on a case-by-case basis, that setting may be an institution" [quoting VOR’s Amici Curiae brief]

The second “truth”, that opportunities for dignity, freedom, choice, and a sense of belonging are not possible in an institutional environment, is an assertion that cannot be proved or disproved. It is based on the subjective experience of a wide range of individuals, many of whom are unable to comprehend such abstractions or express their opinion about them.

The underpinnings of the NCD interpretation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Olmstead decision are fragile to non-existent as is their rationale for wanting to close all institutions.

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