​Mourning the Loss of Disability Rights Icon Lois Curtis

Posted by Stephanie Woodward in Life After Paralysis on December 20, 2022 # Lifestyle

Lois CurtisLois Curtis, an incredible disabled woman, artist, and civil rights activist who helped to affirm the right of Americans with Disabilities to live in their own homes and communities instead of nursing homes and other institutional settings, passed away on November 3, 2022.

In 1995, after spending nearly two decades in and out of institutional settings, Lois Curtis - along with her friend, Elaine Wilson - filed a lawsuit against Tommy Olmstead, the Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Human Resources, because they were forced into institutional settings instead of receiving services and support in the community. The lawsuit became known as Olmstead v. L.C. and E.W. and after spending a few years in the lower courts, the suit went up to the Supreme Court of the United States in 1999. In this landmark case, the Supreme Court ruled that people with disabilities have the right to receive services and support in the most integrated setting appropriate for their needs and that unjustified segregation of disabled people in institutions is discrimination and a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Not only did this decision help Lois and Elaine to be able to eventually live in the community, the Olmstead decision helped disabled people across the nation to live in freedom. Thanks to Lois and Elaine, many people with disabilities have been able to live in their own homes in the community.

After the Olmstead decision, Lois spent a lot of her time creating art. She was a talented visual artist and poet who loved to sing and write songs. Lois also loved church and the gospel, as well as traveling. In fact, for many years, Lois traveled the country to share her story and motivate others to advocate for their rights. In 2011, Lois traveled to Washington, D.C., for the 12th anniversary of the Olmstead decision and gave President Obama a piece of her artwork.

In the film, The Art of Being L.C., Lois shared her art, life, and hopes and dreams with viewers, including one of her poems called “Every Day.” In “Every Day,” Lois shares some of the things she loves doing in the community and things she’d like to do, including “I love to eat apples off the tree. I love to swim everyday in the swimming pool. See movie stars and concerts. Paint pictures, learn social studies. Cook my food on the stove sometimes. Flies on an airplane in the sky going out of town to Hawaii. Very nice to God. I’d like to have turkey on Thanksgiving. I’d like to see the sky in heaven. It’s rainy everyday. Sit on the beach and cook barbeque ribs and celebrate the Fourth of July.”

Lois loved living in the community and doing what she wanted. As we mourn the loss of Lois, we can honor her by continuing to advocate for the people with disabilities who are still segregated in institutional settings and waiting to be free.

Photo Credit: ZUMA Press, Inc., via Alamy

Stephanie Woodward is an attorney and Executive Director of Disability EmpowHer Network, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering girls and women with disabilities. Stephanie is passionate about seeking justice for marginalized communities - and has an arrest record to show for it. As a proud disabled woman and civil rights activist, Stephanie is committed to bringing more women and girls with disabilities to the forefront through mentoring and activism.

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