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Launched TUESDAY October 15, 2019 on zReportage.com Story #713: Promises Kept, Promises Unfulfilled: Olmstead Decision Turns 20: American Supreme Court 1999 Olmstead ruling changed the landscape for millions of disabled Americans - but some still wait. Promises Kept, Promises Unfulfilled by award winning ZUMA Press photojournalist Robin Rayne is an in-depth case study on how 20 years later this important law has helped many but due to bureaucracy many more are still without help the law promises and should ensure. Maurice Smith, 37, has been locked up in the forensic unit of East Central Regional Hospital in Augusta, Ga for more than a decade, but was never charged with a crime. Smith asks to asks anyone who will listen the question uppermost in his mind for the last 11 years: ''When am I getting out of here? Teresia Blackshear comforts her son Mikaiah Epps, 20, who lives in a temporary crisis home because of his intellectual disability and mental illness. 'He can't live at home because my husband fights with him,' she said during a visit. Mikaiah spent one year in a county jail because no other facility was available, she said. He awaits a Medicaid waiver that would provide better supports, but there are more than 6,000 other Georgia residents also in the waiting list. Whenever family was at stake, Nafeesah Shaheed was a fierce and tireless fighter. Until a medical accident catastrophically starved her brain of oxygen, leaving her bedridden and no longer able to speak, the social worker with advanced degrees from Columbia University and Hunter College in New York devoted her life to rescuing and reuniting troubled families. She was wherever families were at risk. Her husband and her eight children resolved to bring her home. They succeeded with the help of lawyers at the Atlanta Legal Aid Society and a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Legal Aid originated. October 2020 marks the twentieth anniversary of the Olmstead case, this epic U.S. Supreme Court decision solidified the rights established in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that individuals with disabilities have the right to live their lives in the community and in the most integrated setting possible.
© Robin Rayne/ZUMA Wire
TERESIA BLACKSHEAR comforts her son MIKAIAH EPPS, 20, who lives in a temporary crisis home because of his intellectual disability and mental illness. 'He can't live at home because my husband fights with him,' she said during a visit. Mikaiah spent one year in a county jail because no other facility was available, she said. He awaits a Medicaid waiver that would provide better supports, but there are more than 6,000 other Georgia residents also in the waiting list. This comes at the 20th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court Olmstead Decision (June 22, 1999) that ruled people with intellectual or physical disability, or mental health issues have a civil right to live in community and receive services rather than be segregated from society in state institutions.
© Robin Rayne/ZUMA Wire
NAFEESHA SHAHEED, 67, is visited by daughter and grandchildren in her room. She was a vibrant social worker with advanced degrees from Columbia University in New York. After a medical accident left her unable to walk or speak, she required around-the-clock care. At growing odds with nursing home personnel who parked the formerly vibrant woman in a wheelchair and left her unattended for hours, her husband and their eight children resolved to bring her home. They succeeded with the help of lawyers from Atlanta Legal Aid Society and a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Legal aid originated. L.C. vs Olmstead marked its 20th anniversary in 2019.
© Robin Rayne/ZUMA Wire
CHARLES ANDERSON, 65, confronted a medical crisis that stripped him of his independence and confined him to a nursing home. He met Atlanta Legal Aid Society attorney Toni Pastore, manager of the non-profit organization's Disability Integration Project, who helped him qualify for community support benefits. She kept his spirits up while he remained on the waiting list, prodding and encouraging him to believe he could make it on his own. Anderson now lives on his own in a small duplex in Christian City, south of Atlanta. 'A new me has emerged,' Anderson said. 'I wasn't going to be seen for my wheelchair. I would be seen for me, and I was going to be okay.' Anderson, who is gay, enjoys 'camping' his outfits and is confidently extroverted. His festively-decorated apartment helps him relive his days of dancing in discos when he was a younger gay man. '’ still shake it,' he said, practicing his moves with help of his walker.
© Robin Rayne/ZUMA Wire
MAURICE SMITH, 37, has been locked up in the forensic unit of East Central Regional Hospital in Augusta, for more than a decade, but was never charged with a crime. He was admitted to the prison hospital because of his developmental disability and physical challenges. His physicians, social workers and caregivers all admit he doesn't belong in a psychiatric hospital with other inmates who have been judged incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of insanity. They confirm there is no reason he can't leave except there is no place for him to go. Smith asks anyone who will listen 'When am I getting out of here?'
© Robin Rayne/ZUMA Wire
ERIC RUIZ, 22, who has autism, gazes from the bedroom window at his parent's home. He is able to live at home instead of a nursing home or assisted living facility because of Medicaid waiver funding that provides trained direct support professional staff that takes him on outings into the community several days a week, learning to navigate society.
© Robin Rayne/ZUMA Wire
TYKEEM VALENTINE, 22, has autism and is unable to speak. However, he communicates in his own non-verbal way with his mother, DEBORAH VALENTINE. As a teen, he was prone to extreme behaviors that cycled him in an out of hospital emergency rooms. His mother has multiple sclerosis and faces her own physical challenges. With supports from Medicaid's Comprehensive Support waiver, Tykeem now lives in a group home and is able to visit regularly with his mother.
© Robin Rayne/ZUMA Wire
ERIC RUIZ, 22, who has autism, shops for produce at a nearby Publix supermarket with SOFIA MORALES, a direct support professional who takes Ruiz into the community every week and helps him navigate society. She accompanies Ruiz to shops and parks in town, helping him to socialize and become more independent. The direct support professional staffing is is funded through a Medicaid waiver. It is a support that might not exist were it not for the U.S. Supreme Court Olmstead decision in 1999, that ruled people with disabilities have a right to live in their community and receive services where they live, rather than an institution that separates them from society.
© Robin Rayne/ZUMA Wire
JUNE ARMOUR sings a favorite hymn with her volunteer citizen advocate BARBARA BENSON on the patio of June's apartment. June has a developmental disability but is able to live in her own home, with daily support from a local non-profit provider, funded by her Medicaid waiver. Barbara volunteers her time to meet with June regularly to help her shop, travel to doctor appointments and navigate society.
© Robin Rayne/ZUMA Wire
LOIS sings her favorite 'Get Closer' song during her day at the Peer Center, a day support facility where she spends several hours, three days a week. Ten years after the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 'Olmstead' decision made it possible for mentally disabled persons to live within their communities rather than state mental hospitals, 41-year-old LOIS CURTIS is all smiles, loving her life beyond locked doors and high fences. A self-taught artist, CURTIS spent much of her life in various mental institutions. Following denial of numerous requests to live in her community, she initiated a lawsuit against the state of Georgia. In July, 1999 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that 'unnecessary institutionalization' amounted to segregation and violated individuals' civil rights. Her case established a national mandate to free tens of thousands of people with disabilities from institutionalization. Today, Ms. Curtis receives community-based support and enjoys life outside the confines of institutional living. Her artistic talent and passion for creativity have motivated her to make art and advocacy her life's work. Her artwork, typically done in pastels and acrylics, are heartfelt, bold expressions of how deeply she values personal relationships. They are mainly portraits, capturing intense emotions with simple lines and bold colors. 'I feel good about myself. Sometimes I put my mind on the earth and go to the future where my art pictures are on the wall. People would love to see my pretty art pictures because they will take them to heaven and hug them forever,' says Ms. Curtis. Her supporters have arranged for dozens of art shows in the Atlanta area, and she is now an invited speaker to conferences nationwide.
© Robin Rayne/ZUMA Wire
June 19, 2019 - Marietta, Georgia, USA - HOPE HICKS, 52, works at a thrift store in a supported employment job. She has an intellectual disability, and works three days a week to help her retain independence. She lives with two roommates in a supported living apartment. She has support from trained staff, funded by her Medicaid waiver.
© Robin Rayne/ZUMA Wire
WILLIAM HA, 22, is completely non-verbal with an intellectual disability due to autism. He was relocated to a temporary crisis home after he aged-out of another facility, and state officials were unable to find a more permanent group home for him. Ha and a staff caregiver visit on the crisis home porch. Though he's non-verbal, he understands some of what others say.
© Robin Rayne/ZUMA Wire
SURE JAMIESON, retired attorney for Atlanta Legal Aid Society, brought the most important civil rights case for people with disabilities in our country's history. As an attorney with the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc., she was the key attorney in Olmstead v. L.C. Olmstead is repeatedly referred to as the Brown v. Board of Education decision for people with disabilities. When Sue originally filed the Olmstead case, she had no idea that it would turn out to be a landmark civil rights decision from the United States Supreme Court in 1999. It was simply an extension of the unique advocacy that she was doing on behalf of men and women confined in Georgia institutions.
© Robin Rayne/ZUMA Wire
Robin Rayne

ROBIN RAYNE is an Atlanta based, internationally published magazine and newspaper photojournalist and documentary film producer, specializing in developmental disability issues, human rights and social justice concerns. Spanning a 35 year national magazine career, his work has appeared in Newsweek, Time, Business Week, Forbes, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, NBC News, DOUBLEtruck Magazine, Paris Match, zReportage.com and Der Spiegel, among dozens more. Robin's stories and projects have been syndicated globally by ZUMA Press since the agency's beginning in 1993. Robin and his wife Kyla live in Canton, Georgia with their trusty dog Seamus a Wheaten terrier.:713



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