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DECEMBER 18, 1998   12:38 PM

Michael Auberger, 303-733-9324, or Bob Kafka, 512-442-0252
Disability Rights Group Says Governors Declare War on Disabled People
WASHINGTON - December 18 - With its decision to hear a Georgia lawsuit known as L.C. & E.W. vs. Olmstead, the Supreme Court will consider putting back in place what former President George Bush called "the shameful wall of exclusion" separating people with disabilities from other Americans, leaders of the national disability rights group ADAPT stated today.

ADAPT blamed governors in 22 states for pressuring the Court to hear the case. In a friend of the court brief, the governors contend that the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not require community placement if appropriate care can also be provided in an institution.

"Each and every governor who signed on to the brief ought to be ashamed," stated ADAPT national organizer Mike Auberger. "ADAPT will not sit idly by while states attempt to erode our civil rights."

ADAPT vows to mount a campaign to protect the ADA and the fundamental right of people with disabilities to live in the community. While the Georgia lawsuit involves people with mental disabilities, ADAPT points out that the Supreme Court decision will have a far-reaching impact on the lives of all people with disabilities.

"This will be the defining moment for the ADA," explains Philadelphia attorney Steve Gold. "If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Georgia, the ADA will become a mere shell of what it is intended to be, stripping away its major civil rights provision --integration."

In 1995, the Supreme Court declined to hear Gold's similar Pennsylvania lawsuit, known as Helen L. vs. DiDario on appeal, letting the lower court's decision stand and freeing a Pennsylvania woman from unnecessary institutionalization. What makes the Georgia lawsuit different is that 22 governors signed onto the lawsuit opposing the integration mandate.

Both Georgia's lawsuit and the Helen L. ruling are based on the ADA's "integration" mandate, which says "a public entity must administer services, programs and activities in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of qualified individuals with disabilities." Authorized in 1990, the ADA is the most sweeping civil rights legislation protecting people with disabilities. Upon signing the law at a packed White House lawn ceremony, President Bush declared, "And now I sign legislation which takes a sledgehammer to another wall, one which has, for too many generations, separated Americans with disabilities from the freedom they could glimpse, but not grasp."

Georgia's appeal to the Supreme Court has outraged ADAPT and the entire disability community. All people want the choice to live in the community, and Georgia's lawsuit challenges this, stating "the fundamental issue of whether Congress intended for institutional care to constitute discrimination...can and should be decided first." The "friend of the court" brief was prepared by Florida's attorney general, and signed by Alabama, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming.




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