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Advancing the Human & Civil Rights of People with Disabilities in Illinois



Boy with down syndrome and girl laughing and smilingFind answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) about community integration. Just click on a question below to reveal the answer associated with it.

People with disabilities have a right to live in the community with nondisabled people.  People with disabilities cannot be forced to live in institutions in order to receive services.  Institutional living used to be the norm for people with disabilities.  But, due to changes in attitudes and stronger legal protections, more people with disabilities are living in the community.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires states to offer services in the “most integrated setting.”  The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that segregating people with disabilities in institutions is a form of discrimination.  Many lower court cases have affirmed the right of people with disabilities to live in the community.  Some courts have also relied on the U.S. Constitution and the Medicaid provisions of the Social Security Act when ruling in favor of community integration.

Yes. Community living can work for everyone, regardless of the type or severity of disability. People with mental illness, developmental disabilities and physical disabilities, including people with extremely severe disabilities, can live successfully in the community. Every type of service that can be provided in an institution can be provided in the community, often at lower cost and higher quality. These include:

  • Speech therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Nursing
  • 24-hour support or supervision
  • Vocational training

A wide variety of settings is available in the community, including:

  • Apartments
  • Shared living
  • Group homes

People who choose to remain in the family home with parents or other relatives can have services brought into their homes.

Community living has many benefits for people with disabilities. People with disabilities generally have the same wants and needs as nondisabled people. Unfortunately, institutional living does not give people with disabilities the freedom to satisfy these needs. Moving into the community can open up a whole new world for people with disabilities by providing them:

  • A choice of where and with whom they live
  • The ability to see friends and family more often
  • The opportunity to work in the community
  • The opportunity to develop new hobbies
  • The opportunity to participate in the life of the community by going to the library, restaurants, concerts and other public venues.

Integration also makes the community more diverse.

The federal Medicaid program pays for part – usually half — of the cost of institutional settings for people with disabilities.  However, states can apply to the Department of Health and Human Services for “waivers.”  Waivers allow states to use Medicaid money to pay for services that allow people to remain in their homes or live in community settings.  States can also make home and community services part of their Medicaid state plan. In addition, states can pay for services if they are not eligible for Medicaid reimbursement.

Although Illinois lags behind most states in providing home and community services, it is moving in a very positive direction. More people are living integrated lives in the community. Equip for Equality and others have brought three class action lawsuits to increase community integration:

  • Ligas v. Maram, on behalf of people with developmental disabilities
  • Williams v. Quinn, on behalf of people with mental illness
  • Colbert v. Quinn, on behalf of people living in Cook County nursing homes

These cases are described in more detail in Community Integration: EFE’s Recent Work. In addition to these class actions, the state has closed state-operated developmental centers and has applied for federal grants that support community integration.

The Illinois Department of Human Services provides services to people with disabilities. The department is broken down into divisions:

  • The Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) serves people with intellectual and other types of developmental disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, autism and epilepsy. DDD’s services include:
    • Residential services
    • Day programming
    • Therapies
    • Vocational services

DDD contracts with private pre-admission screening agencies (PAS agencies), which help people obtain community services from private providers. To find the PAS agency in your area, go to, choose “Developmental Disabilities Services” on the drop-down menu, and enter your county and zip code. The PAS agency staff will meet with you to discuss the services you need and how urgently you need them.

  • The Division of Mental Health (DMH) serves people with mental illness. DMH contracts with mental health providers to offer direct services, such as counseling and psychiatric services, to people with mental illness. DMH provides:
    • Residential services
    • Day programming
    • Therapies
    • Vocational services

To find providers in your area, go to, choose “Mental Health” on the drop-down menu, and enter your county.

  • The Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) serves people with all types disabilities.  DRS provides home and vocational services.  To find the DRS office near you, go to, choose “Rehabilitation Services” on the drop-down menu, and enter your county and zip code.


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Last updated: January 13, 2016

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