March 20, 2006

Thousands in Illinois May Benefit From Suit To Let People Live In Community

By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express (subscribe)

CHICAGO --A federal judge has granted class action status to a lawsuit filed on behalf of nine Illinois residents with developmental disabilities who claim the state denies them their rights to pursue meaningful and productive lives by warehousing them in institutions.

The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge James Holderman means that an estimated 6,000 people in an about 250 large facilities known as "intermediate care facilities for people with developmental disabilities" (ICF/DDs), and many more that are at risk of institutionalization, could benefit from any relief obtained in the suit.

"The judge's decision is an enormous step forward," said Max Lapertosa, a lawyer with Access Living, which filed the suit in conjunction with Equip for Equality, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, and the law firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP. Access Living is Chicago's Center for Independent Living, while Equip for Equality is Illinois' federally mandated protection and advocacy system.

"People with developmental disabilities have the right to choose to live in integrated community settings that best fit their needs. And that choice must remain with them, not with the State," Lapertosa added in a press release.

According to the complaint, which was filed last July, officials responsible for long-term care in the state are forcing people into institutional facilities rather than providing alternative services in the community, thereby violating the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Title XIX of the Social Security Act.

When the suit was filed, five of the plaintiffs lived in institutions despite repeated requests to be placed in homes in the community. The other four lived with family members, and were giving up necessary services to avoid being institutionalized.

"Plaintiffs can appropriately be served in settings that would integrate them into the community while still meeting their need for services and support," the 30-page suit reads. "Most people with developmental disabilities prefer to live in a home that is integrated in the community, rather than an institution. In addition, community-based programs are cost-effective alternatives to large institutions such as ICF-DDs."

"I want to live with friends in a small house or apartment and have my own room," said plaintiff Stanley Ligas, who has been in a large institution for more than 12 years, even though he and his mother have requested many times for him to move into the community.

"I can do a lot of things on my own, and I want to be able to cook for myself," he added.

The suit asks the court to acknowledge that state officials are violating federal laws, and to provide residential services in the community.

In June of 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Olmstead v. L.C. & E.W. that unnecessarily institutionalizing people with disabilities violated their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"Federal Judge Gives Green Light to Class Action" (Equip for Equality)

Documents Relevant to Ligas v. Maram (Equip for Equality)

State of the States in Developmental Disabilities: Illinois (The Coleman Institution)

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Posted on March 20, 2006