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Olmstead: A Declaration of Independence

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This Fourth of July, Americans will come together to celebrate our independence and the incredible patriots who made it possible. But those patriots were not just wealthy landowners in powdered wigs. Patriots come in all shapes and sizes. They are found on our battlefields, in the backs of buses, or in the hallways of a nursing home. They are anyone who holds in their heart the values of independence for all and insist on making those values central to the American experience. And two such patriots helped to provide the independence for a generation of people with disabilities

This month people with disabilities celebrate our own landmark of independence, the Supreme Court’s Olmstead Decision. Two women with mental health challenges had long sought to live and work in the community, and were continually denied that opportunity. Forced to living in a hospital setting despite these wishes, they went to court and fought for their right to receive government services in a setting of within the community, a right to the essential supports that allow people with disabilities to live lives of their choosing. Such a decision is what allowed thousands of American’s with disabilities to leave nursing homes, and live as fully independent members of the community.

As we celebrate our independence this week, we must take the time to think of the millions for whom it remains is an elusive, unreachable goal. Take time to acknowledge those who remain needlessly segregated and restricted in institutions, live under unnecessary guardianships or even feel just by being a person with a disability that their choices are less important. Independence was won by those who came before us and must be won continually, an evolution which will allow our nation to one day finally embody the lofty principles on which it was founded.

But we also have time to be thankful for how far we have already come. To think of those brave women who made the Olmstead Decision possible, and in doing showed as a way to our independence. People with disabilities and our nation made better for their bravery.

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