Office of Public Engagement

Department of Justice Transformative Olmstead Settlement

More than a decade ago, in its landmark decision in the case of Olmstead v. L.C., the Supreme Court ruled that under the Americans with Disabilities Act, states must serve people with disabilities in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs.  The promise of Olmstead is that individuals with disabilities will have the opportunity to live lives like people without disabilities – to have friends, work, be part of a family, and participate in community activities. 

On Thursday, I had the privilege of announcing a settlement agreement thatwill transform the Commonwealth of Virginia’s system for delivering services to people with developmental disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, and will fulfill the promise of Olmstead for thousands of Virginians.  Our investigation found that Virginia was placing people with developmental disabilities in its state-run training centers and other institutional settings, even though they could have been served in their homes or other community-based settings.  We also found that Virginia was unnecessarily placing people with developmental disabilities on waitlists for community services. 

The agreement will provide relief for more than 5,000 Virginians with developmental disabilities and will have an impact on thousands more individuals receiving developmental disability services.  The agreement will provide community-based services through Medicaid developmental disabilities waivers for approximately 4,200 people who are on waitlists and people transitioning to the community over a ten year period.  Almost 3,000 of these waivers will be targeted to people with intellectual disabilities; another 450 waivers will be targeted to people with non-intellectual developmental disabilities; and another 800 waivers will be targeted to people choosing to leave the training centers.  An additional 1,000 people on waitlists for community services will receive flexible family supports to help provide care in their family home or their own home. 

This agreement will help people like those we met during our investigation: the mother who had to quit her job to care for her child who had been on a waiting list for years for community-based services; the young woman with Down syndrome who was engaged but was not allowed to live with her fiancé; the father who had nowhere to turn when his daughter went into crisis; and the young man with autism who wants a real job.      

Under the agreement, the Commonwealth will also create a comprehensive community crisis system with a full range of crisis services– including a hotline, mobile crisis teams, and crisis stabilization programs– to divert people from unnecessary out-of-home placements.  The agreement requires the Commonwealth to develop and implement an “Employment First” policy to prioritize and expand real work opportunities for people with developmental disabilities.  In addition, the agreement will create an $800,000 fund for housing assistance to facilitate opportunities for independent living for people with developmental disabilities.  Under the agreement, the Commonwealth must create a strong and comprehensive quality and risk management system to ensure that community-based services are safe and effective.  Finally, the agreement is court enforceable and will be monitored by an independent reviewer with a broad range of experience in disability service systems. 

This is a landmark agreement, a blueprint for sustainable reform, and a model for ADA Olmstead enforcement going forward.     

The agreement with the Commonwealth is part of a broad, nationwide effort to enforce the Olmstead decision.  In the last three years, the Civil Rights Division has joined or initiated litigation to ensure community-based services in more than 35 matters in 20 states.  We reached comprehensive agreements with the states of Georgia and Delaware that, like the agreement with Virginia, provide broad relief for thousands of individuals with disabilities. 

To learn more about the Department’s Olmstead enforcement efforts, visit www.ada.gov/olmstead.

Tom Perez is the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights.

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