Personal Story

Impact Feature Issue on the ADA and People with Intellectual Developmental, and Other Disabilities

Lois Curtis on Life After Olmstead


Lois Curtis is an artist living in Stone Mountain, Georgia. Lee Sanders is a Career Specialist with Briggs & Associates, Roswell, Georgia.

Lee Sanders

On June 22, 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Olmstead v. L.C. that unjustified segregation of persons with disabilities constitutes discrimination in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Following is a compilation of three conversations with Lois Curtis, the surviving plaintiff in the Olmstead case. In these conversations from Fall 2014, Lois draws pictures throughout while answering questions. She doesn’t address the ADA directly – that’s not her way. Instead, she shares her memories and thoughts, infused with her characteristic innocence, generosity, and liberating spirit.

Lee: How did what became the Olmstead Decision begin? How did you get out of the institution?

Lois: Well, I prayed to God. I cried at night so I prayed to God every night in my bed. Elaine [Elaine Wilson, co-plaintiff], asked me to pray for her to get out too, so I did. We sued and they closed our case [won our case]. Elaine and me was the first ones to get out. Elaine died. She in heaven now. I miss her sometimes. Why I have to go away? I’m sorry what I did. (When Lois recalls her years living in institutions, occasionally negative emotions take hold)

Lee: Lois, it was a mistake. You did nothing wrong. You’re a good friend to many people. Tell me, what do you wish for all the people you’ve helped move out of the institution to live in their communities?

Lois: I hope they live long lives and have their own place. I hope they make money. I hope they learn every day. I hope they meet new people, celebrate their birthdays, write letters, clean up, go to friends’ houses and drink coffee. I hope they have a good breakfast every day, call people on the phone, feel safe.

Lee: Could someone have the possibility of all these wonderful things in their life if they lived in an institution?

Lois: Nah.

Lee: And President Obama invited you to the Oval Office because of your part in the Olmstead Decision. He said that he wanted to help others live in their communities, “just like Lois.” What was it like to meet the President?

Lois: It was real nice. He a good person to me. They took our picture and he smile real big. He wrote me a letter.

Lee: And you gave him a piece of your artwork, too.

Lois: Yeah!! He like my picture. He said I am a real good artist.

Lee: What is your life like today? Tell me some of the things you do.

Lois: Well, I make grits, eggs, and sausage in the morning and sweep the floor. I go out to eat sometimes. I take art classes. I draw pretty pictures and make money. I go out of town and sell me artwork. I go to church and pray to the Lord. I raise my voice high! In the summer I go to the pool and put my feet in the water. Maybe I’ll learn to swim someday. I been fishing. I seen a pig and a horse on a farm. I buy clothes and shoes. I have birthday parties. They a lot of fun. I’m not afraid of big dogs no more. I feel good about myself. My life a better life.

Lee: You know that there are still people living in institutions that would like to have a better life, like you. What would you like to say to give them hope? (Lois is uncertain) Shall I read you the letter you wrote a couple of years ago? (Lois stops drawing and nods. She then tilts and bows her head slightly and closes her eyes):

Hello to all the people living in institutions,I remember you. Give me a prayer. Sometimes I feel good about my life. When I feel bad about my life I name my country, sing the gospel, and bring my mind back home. I will sing with you again. Have a beautiful day.Love, Lois

Lois: (Huge smile and deep laugh) Yeah! I think some day it always gonna be a beautiful day!