Lois Curtis, Disability Rights Activist Who Won a Landmark Civil Rights Case (1967 – 2022)

Fighting for the right to live in the community and establishing the right of people with disabilities to live independently

Lois Curtis was a disabled African American woman who lived in a state institution in Georgia from the age of 11-29. She won the Olmstead vs L.C. Supreme Court Case that established the right of people with disabilities to live in the community and that shifted funding from institutions and nursing homes to in-home care. After she started living in the community, she gained recognition for her artwork. Lois Curtis died of cancer on November 3, 2022.

(From NPR, November 5, 2022) Attorney Sue Jamieson was touring a grim state hospital in Georgia three decades ago when she was introduced to a young woman, Lois Curtis, who’d spent much of her teen years and early 20’s in state institutions.

“As we always say, ‘What is it you think we could do for you? I work at Legal Aid. And I’m a lawyer,'” Jamieson recalled for an oral history for her employer, the Atlanta Legal Aid Society. “And she’d say: ‘Get me out of here. Would you please get me out of here? When am I getting out of here?'”

Curtis, who had an intellectual disability and was diagnosed with mental illness, kept calling Jamieson from the hospital, asking when she could get out.

The lawsuit that Jamieson filed on behalf of Curtis and another woman – L.C. v. Olmstead – led to a landmark Supreme Court decision benefitting elderly and disabled people, and ultimately helped Curtis move out of institutional care and into her own home.

Curtis, 55, died in her own home outside of Atlanta on Thursday. The cause was pancreatic cancer.