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Written by: John Wolf on Tuesday, January 25, 2011 Posted in:

This week, the Wall Street Journal examines a controversial topic in: Feud Over Best Setting for the Disabled.  The story covers the Justice Department lawsuit against the state of Arkansas which claims that the state is preventing disabled residents to move from institutions to less restrictive community settings.

This news follows a story that appeared in the Washington Post in December: Advocates set to sue D.C. on behalf of disabled confined to nursing homes. According to the lawsuit, more than 500 disabled DC residents are confined to nursing homes against their wishes because the city has not provided services that would allow them to live independently.

Both suits are founded in a 1999 Supreme Court ruling that required state and local governments to provide services to the disabled in the least restrictive settings possible.  And, both cases have ignited a very emotional debate about what setting is best for the disabled.

The number of disabled individuals living in state institutions has dwindled to 33,682 in 2009 from 84,239 in 1990, according to Charlie Lakin, director of the Research and Training Center on Community Living at the University of Minnesota (as cited in the Wall Street Journal). This is happening as institutions have been shrinking and closing, replaced by community-based options.

To date, eleven states have closed all institutions, but a few states, such as Arkansas, have maintained extensive networks of centers.

Learn more about the implications of institutional vs.community-based care for disabled people in the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.