(WASHINGTON, DC) – US District Court Judge Ellen Huvelle has issued an opinion indicating that the DC Government and the Department on Disability Services (DDS) have achieved compliance with the court-ordered benchmarks established in the 40 year-old Evans class-action litigation. The Court is expected to officially vacate the case in a final hearing scheduled for January 10, 2017 at 2 pm at the US District Court.
“Judge Huvelle’s order confirms the significant strides our government has made in developing a high-quality support services delivery system for DC residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Mayor Bowser. “My Administration will continue to press forward with a bold agenda that improves the lives of every District resident, and ensures those with developmental disabilities are not left behind.”
The class-action lawsuit currently known as Evans v. Bowser was filed 40 years ago in 1976 to remedy the constitutionally deficient level of care, treatment, education, and training provided to residents of Forest Haven, the Washington, DC’s former institution for people with developmental disabilities. The Evans case is the longest standing class-action lawsuit of its kind in U.S. history. Forest Haven closed in 1991 as a result of the litigation, and the DC Government was charged with developing a quality support services delivery system for DC residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Attorney General Karl A. Racine said the ruling is good news for DC residents. “The District has come a very long way indeed from the days of Forest Haven, and I’m pleased that our agencies can now focus entirely on providing high-quality services to people who live with disabilities,” he said. “Over the last 40 years, dozens of attorneys in the Office of the Attorney General have done outstanding work representing the government’s progress, and I want to thank them.”
Established as a DC Government agency in 2007, DDS laid the foundation and developed the framework to successfully manage the Plan for Compliance and Conclusion of Evans v. Bowser. The Plan for Compliance and Conclusion identified 70 outcome criteria aligned with five goals designed to improve the quality of life for DC residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The goals focused on providing residents with comprehensive residential and health services; opportunities to become active members of their communities; safeguards against neglect and harm; and opportunities to lead self-directed lives.
Under the leadership of Mayor Bowser, the DC Government was able to continue progress in recruiting professionals with experience in designing, implementing, and administering innovative policies and programs to foster inclusion, independence, and employment of people with disabilities. Through a multifaceted approach, DDS was able to change the culture of disability services and build capacity to ultimately create a sustainable system in which, through the combined efforts of the DC Government, DC residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities are able to obtain person-centered services and supports that provide a pathway to greater self-reliance and dignity.
“This announcement is over 40 years in the making and there are far too many people, past and present to thank for their selfless contributions to making this final determination of compliance a reality,” said Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Brenda Donald. “The Bowser Administration has worked tirelessly to achieve this and to ensure that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have every opportunity to live self-directed lives as valued members of their communities.”
Ricardo Thornton is an Evans class member who has been very involved with the systems change efforts of the DC Government and DDS. He is a member of the President’s Committee on People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and Project ACTION!, a regional coalition of self-advocates and self-advocacy groups from Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Thornton was institutionalized most of his childhood, he was 7 or 8 years-old when he entered Forest Haven and 20 years old when its doors finally closed. Thornton met his wife Donna while they were both residents of Forest Haven; they have been married 32 years and have an adult son. He has been employed with the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in DC for nearly 20 years. The biggest accomplishment, from his perspective, is that people with disabilities now have a choice.
“Our voices are now being heard - people are listening to us and we are now able to make our own decisions on what we want to do and where we want to live, work, and receive services,” said Thornton.