Talley Wells

Olmstead Disability Rights Clinic Starting Fall Semester

This fall, Georgia State Law will open the Olmstead Disability Rights Clinic in partnership with Atlanta Legal Aid Society’s Disability Integration Project. The yearlong off-site clinic will be taught by the Disability Integration Project’s director, Talley Wells, who will serve as clinic director.

The clinic focuses on advocacy arising out of Olmstead v. L.C., in which the Supreme Court ruled that individuals with disabilities have the right to live outside an institution if a medical team determines that a community setting is appropriate and the person can be reasonably accommodated.

Participating students will represent clients to help them obtain the assistance they need to live at home. Representation may include advocacy in administrative hearings, educational matters, speaking with state agencies or assisting with larger federal litigation.

Among those they may represent are children with autism and behavioral disabilities.

“They will be advocating to get those children the support they need in school and at home,” Wells said. A recent case involving autism services in the 11th Circuit may create new advocacy opportunities based on that decision, Wells said.

“This is a unique opportunity for students to be involved in individual representation while at the same time being part of this major legal transformation that is happening around the country and in particular making a huge impact in Georgia,” Wells said.

The clinic will also serve as an avenue to increase awareness about the lives of those with disabilities in the community and to educate the public about the importance of Olmstead. Students will work in teams to research a legal issue that impacts children/young adults with disabilities, and conduct community education forums on each of the issues.

“One of my passions is to tell the nation about this critical decision because it is transforming the country from a 19th-century system based on institutions and separating people with disabilities to a 21st-century opportunity for people with disabilities to be full parts of the community,” Wells said.

Though it was a landmark case, implementation of the 1999 Olmstead ruling was slow-moving. It wasn’t until 2010, when a complaint filed by the U.S. Department of Justice said Georgia unnecessarily placed individuals with disabilities in state institutions, that true reform began, Wells said.

As a result of U.S. v Georgia, thousands of home and community-based waivers were created to transition current hospital and nursing home residents back into the community.

“That decision has been backbone of change in Georgia,” Wells said. “It created a robust infrastructure of mental health services in the state. I feel like we have finally begun to make large steps in a 150-year-old problem of institutionalizing people with disabilities, but we have miles to go.”

Students will learn about the problems that still exist, and discuss possible solutions, with a focus on Georgia. Students will also learn from special guests including experts such as the state commissioner for disabilities, and people with disabilities who will share their stories.

Wells said there is a huge amount of excitement surrounding the opening of this clinic, and the work it does will have a positive impact on the community.

“I think Georgia State Law is making an impact in Atlanta and in Georgia, and I’m excited about working with the law school and advancing its relationship with Atlanta Legal Aid Society,” he said.

Wells has worked for Atlanta Legal Aid Society since 2000, and was named director of the Disability Integration Project in 2008. He and his wife, Laura Magistro, are founders of Atlanta L’arche, which is part of a global organization that helps create inclusive communities where those with and without intellectual disabilities live and work together.

Return to the Spring 2016 Magazine