Statement at Round Table 1: Article 19 - Living Independently and Being Included in the Community

Judith E. Heumann
Special Advisor for International Disability Rights 
Third Conference of States Parties at the UN
New York City
September 2, 2010

Thank you, Mr. Chair.


The United States is extremely pleased to attend this Third Conference of States Parties and extends appreciation to the Bureau, UN-DESA, panel members, and all who worked to plan the Conference. We are also pleased that a session of this Conference is devoted to the important topic of living independently and being included in the community, which is embodied in Article 19. This is a basic right that is central to the Convention and we appreciate the opportunity to participate with others in this Round Table to discuss best practices to effectuate this right.


The United States has a strong commitment to the right of persons with disabilities to live independently and be included in the community. This commitment arose from the groundbreaking advocacy of persons with disabilities and their organizations, and resulted in the establishment of community based Independent Living Centers (ILCs), which provide supports for people to live independently in their communities, and work on policy reform, self-advocacy, and the empowerment of persons with disabilities. We now see such centers across the United States, and increasingly in other countries across the globe.

In the landmark 1999 Olmstead v. L.C decision, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the right of persons with disabilities to live in the most appropriate integrated setting. Recognizing that the Olmstead ruling was a critical step for our nation because it acknowledged that the choice to live independently is one of the most fundamental rights of Americans with disabilities, President Obama launched a Community Living Initiative on the tenth anniversary of the Olmstead decision.

By establishing a Community Living Initiative as a priority throughout government, the President has signaled the importance of living independently and being included in the community and federal and state agencies are working together to achieve the goals of Olmstead. Our Departments of Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development have a strong collaboration to provide funding and technical assistance to states to help them develop and expand the full array of community services, from housing and health care to transportation and employment. Our Department of Education provides financial support for more than 450 ILCs throughout the United States, which continue to provide independent living skills training, information and referral services, peer counseling, and individual and systems advocacy. Under both the President’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, additional funding and supports are available to states for innovative programs to strengthen community services for individuals with disabilities.

Our Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice and our Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services, along with a network of federally funded Protection and Advocacy agencies in every state, have strong enforcement programs to ensure compliance with the right to community living. These actions have helped to ensure protection of the right of institutionalized persons to live in the community. They also have helped to ensure that persons at risk of institutionalization receive necessary supports so that they can continue to live in their communities and avoid institutionalization.

The United States is happy to engage in informal discussions with States Parties throughout this conference to provide additional information about our laws and programs related to living independently and being included in the community. In turn, we look forward to learning about and learning from the active efforts that other States Parties and Signatories are taking.