Illinois Residents Sue State for Violating Americans with Disabilities Act, Failing to Provide Community Services

Affiliate: ACLU of Illinois
July 28, 2005 12:00 am

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Historic Class-Action Lawsuit Filed on 15th Anniversary of the ADA Seeks Reform of State’s Services for Persons with Developmental Disabilities

CHICAGO — Nine Illinois residents with developmental disabilities today sued Illinois state officials, seeking an order that would require the state to provide services within a smaller community setting, instead of segregating people in large private institutions. The class-action lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, among others, charges that by warehousing persons with developmental disabilities in large institutions, the state deprives them of their fundamental right to pursue meaningful and productive lives.

“I want to live with friends in a small house or apartment and have my own room,” said Stanley Ligas, who is represented in today’s lawsuit. “I can do a lot of things on my own, and I want to be able to cook for myself.” Instead, he has been forced to live in a large institution for the past 12 years in order to receive Medicaid services, despite his repeated requests to move into the community.

The lawsuit comes 15 years after Congress enacted the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act and six years after the United States Supreme Court held that unnecessary institutionalization is discrimination under the ADA.

“I removed my son Isaiah from a private facility after his safety was put at risk and the facility was cited for medical neglect,” said Lutricia Fair, mother and guardian of plaintiff Isaiah Fair. “By refusing to provide community services to my son, the state has abandoned me and many other families who do not want their adult children to be served in institutional settings. I hope this case will help my son and all the other people with developmental disabilities who want to live in the community.”

According to the complaint, Illinois currently ranks 49th among states in its efforts to place individuals with developmental disabilities in small integrated community settings. Instead, Illinois’ antiquated policies channel them into a system of approximately 250 large, privately run congregate care institutions where more than 6000 of Illinois’ developmentally disabled residents are currently housed. According to the lawsuit, most of those 6000 individuals could thrive in small community-based residential homes. The complaint charges that Illinois’ failure to provide meaningful opportunities for community-based services violates the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as other federal statutes.

The plaintiffs are represented by four public interest agencies, Equip for Equality, Access Living, the ACLU of Illinois and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, and the law firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP, which is working in this case as trial counsel on a pro bono basis.

“For far too long, the state of Illinois has relied upon large congregate settings to serve people with developmental disabilities and has refused to develop sufficient community living options,” said Barry C. Taylor, legal advocacy director at Equip for Equality, a private, not-for-profit entity designated in 1985 by the governor to administer the federally mandated protection and advocacy system for safeguarding the rights of people with physical and mental disabilities in Illinois.

“Because of the clear benefits of community living, the ADA mandates that people with disabilities live in the most integrated setting,” Taylor added. “This litigation was filed to force the state to do what it has failed to do voluntarily: comply with federal law and fulfill its obligations to the disability community.”

The nine named plaintiffs, who are from various parts of the state, are asking the court to order Illinois officials to make community settings readily available to people who want and need them.

“Federal law mandates that the state develop a plan that effectively helps people with developmental disabilities move into and thrive in the community while receiving the support and services they are entitled to,” said John Grossbart, the partner at Sonnenschein leading that firm’s efforts. “Despite the fact that Illinois is the 10th wealthiest state in the union, the state ranks at the very bottom in terms of its efforts towards providing community-based services for individuals with developmental disabilities.”

The individual plaintiffs named in the suit are Stanley Ligas, Lorene Bierman, David Childers, Isaiah Fair, Adam Kulig, Jamie McElroy, Tiffany McFadden, Alex Tyner and Jennifer Wilson. Five of the plaintiffs–Ligas, Bierman, Childers, McFadden and Tyner–currently live in institutions, despite repeated requests to be placed in small community residential homes. Fair, Kulig, McElroy and Wilson live at home with parents or other family members, foregoing necessary services in order to avoid being institutionalized because the state of Illinois does not provide sufficient community alternatives.

“The actions of the state result in the unnecessary and unconscionable segregation of persons who deserve and would benefit from life in the community,” said Benjamin Wolf, Associate Legal Director of the ACLU of Illinois.

Marca Bristo, president & CEO of Access Living, said, “As an organization comprised of people with disabilities, we know firsthand that community integration allows people to maintain relationships with their families, work, study, make friends, and share in the rights and responsibilities of American life.” She added, “Segregation in large institutions not only denies people with disabilities these opportunities, but also stigmatizes them and reinforces the false notion that they are not worthy or able to participate in society. As President George H.W. Bush said upon the signing of the ADA, it is time for ‘the shameful wall of exclusion’ to ‘finally come tumbling down.'”

Today’s lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court of Illinois. A copy of the complaint is available online at: /node/35523

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