On November 3rd, Lois Curtis died peacefully in her home surrounded by close friends and family. The disability community will remember her as the main advocate in the famous case L.C. v. Olmstead (1999) (the “Olmstead Decision”). The decision not only recognized that individuals with disabilities had the right to live in the least-restrictive environments, but it also highlighted the importance of providing services for individuals with mental health challenges in the most community integrated setting.
Lois was confined to an institution during her teens and young adult life. She filed a lawsuit, with the help of Attorney Sue Jamieson and fellow advocate Elaine Wilson, against Tommy Olmstead who was Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Human Services. The lawsuit claimed Lois was unnecessarily institutionalized. After reviewing the case, the Supreme Court sided with Lois and Elaine. The Court ruled that unnecessary institutionalization violated an individual’s civil rights – specifically the Americans with Disabilities Act. This decision led to more cases, later expanding the ruling to all state and federal institutions receiving funding. Not just psychiatric hospitals like the one Lois and Elaine were held at.
After the court decision, Lois moved out of the institution and into group and community homes. She eventually moved into her own apartment where she had plenty of supports, including her own group that assisted her with her personal goals and needs. Lois worked the remainder of her life as a disability advocate and portrait artist. She even presented one of her works to former President Barack Obama in 2011.
Lois Curtis’ legacy as a disability advocate continues to shine even after her passing. Her fight is a reminder that it is important to defend the civil rights of people everywhere. With the Olmstead Decision, her accomplishments continue to be at the forefront of the disability community.