Tribune Editorial: Let’s take better care of our individuals with disabilities

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Disability Law Center is suing the state of Utah over improper enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act and a Supreme Court ruling in Olmstead v. L.C., over its placements of adults with intellectual disabilities in a network of privately run independent care facilities across the state. Here Staci Christensen, one of the plaintiffs in the case, who has intellectual disabilities and has been institutionalized since age 20, talks about what life would mean for her outside of an institutionÑfreedom to select and cook her own meals, go to bed when she wants, take classes and be part of the community. She is standing next to a piece of a art by Lois Curtis, an African-American artist and activist who has an intellectual disability, and was a plaintiff in Olmstead v. L.C. The news conference was held at the Disability Law Center in Salt Lake City Monday January 15, 2018.

Only the few who are blessed to be closely associated with, or have a family member as, a person with different abilities (sometimes called a person with disabilities) can really comprehend the challenges such individuals live with. Some have a typical intelligence in an atypical physical body that won’t move on command. Some have challenges with their intellect or development and their physicality.

But one thing is certain: They are all individuals.

Which is why it is so disappointing to learn that the state of Utah is treating them as a homogenous group, rather than as individuals with distinctions and differences.

Many individuals with disabilities cannot live independently without some kind of supervision. Obviously, some need help more than others. Those who have the ability to live life mostly on their own, though, are starting to ask why the state isn’t letting them.

And they are using their independence to file a lawsuit against the state to regain control over their own lives.

Staci Christensen just wants to go to the movies and work more hours at her restaurant job, which she knows she could do if the state would let her. She also wants to date, which the state also won’t let her do. There’s something wrong with that.

Christensen has Down syndrome and lives at an intermediate-care facility called Medallion Supported Living in Payson. The facility houses people with disabilities who are on Medicaid. Plaintiffs in the suit, including Christensen, allege that these intermediate-care centers are violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Disability Law Center and Salt Lake City firm Parsons Behle & Latimer filed the suit in federal court last Friday.

Aubrey Wieber, for The Salt Lake Tribune, reported that the lawsuit “alleges that by relying so heavily on intermediate-care facilities, the state is unnecessarily segregating people from their communities and is institutionalizing them in chaotic environments where they are unable to live fulfilling lives.”

The state does have a program to allow individuals to live more independently, with subsidized housing and transportation help. But the program is at capacity, and people on the wait list wait an average of six years for the state to find room. Many don’t ever get accepted.

Living life with a disability is hard. Not having control over your life or your decisions can compound those difficulties. Those who are high-functioning should be allowed to function.

For those individuals over whom the state has guardianship, we should do everything possible to let our adult sisters and brothers be adults.