After celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26, we have mixed emotions. Twenty years after President George H. W. Bush signed this civil-rights legislation into law, we are sorry the promise of freedom still has not reached our sisters and brothers in nursing facilities and other institutions.
People remain locked away, unseen and unheard. For them, the act is words on paper. They are not given the opportunity to exercise their civil rights under this law because they still dont have the basic freedoms that other Americans enjoy.
Knowing you are protected against employment discrimination means nothing when the hub of your life is a bedroom you share with a stranger. Knowing that buildings and public accommodations are accessible means nothing when you cant go anywhere.
Gains we make in the courts are hard-fought, slow and constantly subject to attack. Even now, Connecticuts attorney general is coordinating legal efforts by the states to fight against recent court gains that would allow more of our people to live in freedom. The president and Congress didnt have the political will to make the Community Choice Act happen.
Presidential commitment to enforcing the Olmstead decision ultimately will swing back in the other direction with another administration. Gains have been made, but unlike any other class of Americans, our freedom remains a state option.
In America, freedom shouldnt be optional, but for us, it is. Federal Medicaid rules require states to pay for institutional placement, but community-based alternatives are subject to state budget cuts. Its ironic that as we celebrate a civil-rights victory that is 20 years old, our freedom is becoming even more precarious. States facing shortfalls are cutting community-living supports for people with disabilities, forcing people into institutions. People with disabilities are being called upon to help solve their states budget crisis by sacrificing their freedom, home and lives.
Recommit your energy to ending the institutional bias.
Martha Mason, San Juan Center for Independence, Durango