The Importance of Stories in Disability Rights History by Hannah Monroe
History is made up of stories, but the stories of many people often go untold, with history written in a way that often doesn’t address the experiences of individuals. Sharing stories with each other and recording them preserves the history of all people. History is not just the story of major events in the world, but is also the lives of people like you and me. Our lives are part of history and by telling our stories to one another, we can find and share our place in the history of our communities.
Two women whose connected stories played an important role in the history of the disability rights movement are Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson, whose struggle with finding support outside of institutions ultimately led to the Olmstead Supreme Court decision. Lois and Elaine had been diagnosed with mental health conditions and intellectual disabilities and, even though they wanted to live in the community and doctors agreed that they should be able to do so, they were continuously being moved between their homes and institutions due to a lack of support.
It was taking years to arrange the support they needed so Sue Jamieson, an attorney with Atlanta Legal Aid Society, began working with them and their case ended up going to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court decided that Lois and Elaine, and all people with disabilities, should get support in the community, basing this decision on the Americans with Disabilities Act, which states that discrimination against people with disabilities by the state is illegal. The belief that people with disabilities deserve to have the support they need in an integrated environment was critical to the Olmstead decision and is something we continue to work for today.
“I am Olmstead” is a project created by Atlanta Legal Aid Society’s Disability Integration Project. This project is a way for everyone to share their stories on what Olmstead means to them and how this landmark Supreme Court decision has changed their lives. “I am Olmstead” is now collaborating with the Disability Visibility Project, which is working with StoryCorps to collect stories from people with disabilities to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. These stories will be preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress along with all of the stories that StoryCorps has been collecting since 2003.
We are looking for stories about people’s experiences of living with disabilities and the history of the disability rights movement so far. By saying “I am Olmstead,” we express how our lives reflect the influence of the Olmstead decision and how our personal histories are part of the story of the disability rights movement and Olmstead. To submit a story, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Olmstead Story” in the subject line. We look forward to hearing from you!
*Hannah Monroe is the Quaker Volunteer Service fellow at the Atlanta Legal Aid Society’s Disability Integration Project.