At present, it’s often far easier for people with disabilities to receive institutional care than community-based supports, but proposed legislation would ensure equal access to both.

Under a bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., all individuals with disabilities who are deemed eligible for institutional care would be guaranteed the option to receive the services they need at home or in the setting of their choice.

Known as the Disability Integration Act, the legislation would dramatically alter the status quo. Current law generally assures people with disabilities care in nursing homes and other institutional facilities if they need assistance with eating, bathing, housekeeping and other daily activities. But, the availability of community-based services is often more limited and subject to long waiting lists.

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Schumer’s proposal would outlaw such waiting lists and prohibit caps on services as well as other measures like low pay that may restrict access to community living.

“Individuals with disabilities have the right to live independent, fulfilling lives amongst their families and friends – but right now, they are often denied the kind of at-home services and supports that then keep them in institutional settings, far from their loved ones and communities,” Schumer said. “We need to be doing everything in our power to make sure they have the resources needed to live and thrive in the comfort of their own homes.”

The bill would apply to services provided by Medicaid as well as private long-term services and supports insurers. Under the plan, states would be eligible for a bump in federal funding for their Medicaid programs if they comply within a specified time period.

Advocates with the disability rights group ADAPT said Schumer’s proposal would be a major step forward by establishing community living as a civil right.

“I fought for decades to get out of the institution,” said Shelly Perrin, a Rochester, N.Y. advocate with the group. “My family abandoned me. The staff at the institution refused to help me and punished me for trying to leave. There are thousands of people still trapped in institutions. This bill gives me hope, because the right that I had to fight so hard for will be written down in the law.”