Disability Rights California Remembers Lois Curtis, Lead Plaintiff of Landmark Olmstead Decision and Her Legacy

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Disability Rights California Remembers Lois Curtis, Lead Plaintiff of Landmark Olmstead Decision and Her Legacy

Disability Rights California joins the disability community in mourning the loss of Lois Curtis, who passed away on November 3, 2022. Lois was a trailblazing advocate whose legacy represents justice and equality.  Because of her efforts to fight disability discrimination, millions of people with disabilities can live, work, and receive services in their own homes and communities. 

Lois Curtis (“L.C.”) was the lead plaintiff in the 1999 United States Supreme Court decision, Olmstead v. L.C. In this landmark decision, the Supreme Court recognized that unnecessary institutionalization of people with disabilities is disability discrimination. In the decision, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg held that individuals have the right to live in the least restrictive setting possible and to fully participate in community life. This groundbreaking case led to significant funding increases across the nation for community-based systems of care.

Lois, who had intellectual and developmental disabilities and a mental health disability, was a child when she was institutionalized for the first time. She then fought for almost two decades to be allowed to return home.  Even though medical professionals determined that Lois could live in the community, she remained institutionalized, living in a state psychiatric hospital for years. She and Elaine Wilson, the other named plaintiff in the Olmstead case, eventually fought to convince the Supreme Court that their unnecessary segregation was disability discrimination in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In a video she made for the National Disability Rights Network in 2020, Curtis said: "My name is Lois Curtis... I'm glad to be free."

“We remember Lois Curtis for her bravery, leading the way for thousands of people with disabilities to move out of institutions and live in the community," says Andy Imparato, Executive Director, Disability Rights California.

After prevailing in Olmstead and paving the way for millions of other individuals across the country to live in the community, Lois lived in Atlanta as a successful visual artist and public speaker. During her time in Atlanta, she sang, wrote songs, traveled, and spent time with friends. She has also been celebrated by the White House during Black History Month events, numerous disability and legal organizations, the National Women’s History Museum, and countless others.

Although more than twenty years have passed since the Olmstead decision—the importance of Lois’s fight lives on. To this day, there are still numerous individuals across California and the country who are unnecessarily institutionalized because there are not adequate culturally responsive community-based services. Disability Rights California continues to fight to enforce the Olmstead decision and to advocate for the values Lois fought so hard to realize: freedom, autonomy, dignity, respect, choice, inclusion, and the power to determine the course of our own lives.


Disability Rights California (DRC) – Is the agency designated under federal law to protect and advocate for the rights of Californians with disabilities. The mission of DRC is to defend, advance, and strengthen the rights and opportunities of people with disabilities. For more information visit: https://www.disabilityrightsca.org.