Legislation & Court DecisionsWhy This Is Important
The laws and court decisions described in this department are important because they established that living, working, learning, and playing in the community, with supports that are person-centered, are things that all people, including people with developmental disabilities, have a RIGHT to. These laws and court decisions are important advocacy tools because they spell out the rights of people with disabilities clearly, and also remind us of the rationale for those rights. They are also important to re-examine during times when budgets are tight and the idea of cutting back on service budgets is discussed because they remind us as a society of earlier times and problems that have been addressed through legislation and court decisions.
Until very recently, people with developmental disabilities were seen as having few rights in American society. When people with developmental disabilities were included in the normal activities of society, such as attending public schools, working in community jobs, enjoying community recreation centers, and living in neighborhoods, it was seen as a “nice gesture” by others, rather than as something they were entitled to. Beginning in the late 1940’s, parents of persons with developmental disabilities began to organize to arrange community programs for their children, and they also worked diligently to win legal rights to treatment and support for their family members with disabilities. With help from the professional community, this organization forced changes in public policy to improve conditions at the public institutions where many people with disabilities lived at the time. They later won the right for their children to receive a free and appropriate education in the public schools and to live and work in the community. In the 1970’s, the parents and professionals who had been fighting to establish these very basic rights were joined by people with disabilities themselves, self-advocates, who played instrumental roles in developing and passing the Americans with Disabilities Act, and other laws that reinforce the rights of people with disabilities to live and work in the community, and to receive the support necessary to be successful in doing so. As is shown in this department, there are many important victories with policymakers and in courtrooms of the past that continue to reinforce person-centered service delivery today.