Precedent Disability Cases Promise “Dramatic” Changes to Communities


Two legal settlements earlier this year “promise sweeping change in housing and employment” for Americans with mental disabilities or mental illnesses, according to lawyer John Petrila in an article in Psychiatric Services. Petrila reviews court decisions that ultimately led to the State of New York agreeing to house 4,000 individuals in their own homes instead of in institutional group homes, and another case in which Rhode Island “has committed to provide supported employment to approximately 2,000 people over the next decade, with individuals assured at least payment at the minimum wage, interaction with peers, and the opportunity to work the maximum number of hours possible, consistent with their preferences and abilities.” These two cases, writes Petrila, “effectively extend the reach of the [Americans with Disabilities Act] to achieve broad reform of the community care system. This is a quite remarkable development.”

Where lawyers have previously fought to win support for people with disabilities on constitutional grounds, writes Petrila, these cases suggest that the Americans with Disabilities Act may be “reaching its full promise.”

“The Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted with the hope that it would result in the end of segregation based on disability,” writes Petrila. “The cases are significant not only because they illustrate the growing role of the ADA as a tool for systems change in community settings, but also because in both cases the agreements incorporate best practices as a foundation for expanded community capacity. In doing so, they reinforce the notion that the ADA in at least some circumstances has become the legal tool for dramatic community-based change, something that constitutional right-to-treatment theories failed to accomplish.”

Law & Psychiatry: Has the ADA Been Reborn as a Tool of Broad Community Change for People With Mental Disabilities? (Petrila, John. Psychiatric Services 2014; doi: 10.1176/


  1. NH sets forth settlement.
    Of NOTE: Within most NH CMHC’s operating policies; family members after a “consumer” is 18 years are NOT included in care, wellness and/or recovery services.
    This has been all reviewed and supported by the appropriate NH State/Federal Agencies.
    NH RSA that sets forth into law: HB 1635
    Lawsuit settlement agreement:

    Report comment