Lois Curtis is well-recognized nationally not only as a successful artist, but also as a powerful advocate for people with I/DD. To many in the advocacy world, she is best known as the face of Olmstead v. LC and EW, the 1999 landmark Supreme Court decision securing people with disabilities’ right to live in their community rather than in institutions.
Although Lois was admitted voluntarily to Georgia Regional Hospital in Atlanta when she was young, she remained institutionalized against her will. As she got older, Lois demanded her right to live in the community and called Atlanta Legal Aid Lawyer Sue Jamieson relentlessly. Together, they fought to prove the State had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to support her in the community. Her case eventually made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Justices issued a ruling that requires states to eliminate unnecessary segregation of people with disabilities and to ensure that people with disabilities receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs. Although the Olmstead decision only involved a psychiatric hospital, courts have clarified that Olmstead applies to all state and Medicaid-funded institutions, including nursing facilities. Soon after the decision and with increased Department of Justice activity, states began developing and implementing policies and plans to expand community-based programs under Medicaid to meet their obligations for individuals with disabilities under the decision.
Today, Lois’ efforts reverberate in many spheres of American society and she continues her contributions through advocacy, speaking, and active participation in her community. The Disability Integration Project created a collection of stories by self-advocates who have fought their way out of institutions. Lois’ powerful impact has even been felt in the entertainment realm with her documentary, The Art of Being Lois.