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close up of Lois Curtis' face

Decatur, GA – Ten years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark “Olmstead” decision made it possible for people with mental disabilities to live within their communities rather than state mental hospitals, 41-year-old LOIS CURTIS is all smiles, loving her life beyond locked doors and high fences.
A self-taught artist, Curtis spent much of her life in various mental institutions. Following denial of numerous requests to live in her community, she initiated a lawsuit against the state of Georgia. In July, 1999 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that ‘unnecessary institutionalization’ amounted to segregation and violated individuals’ civil rights. Her case established a national mandate to free tens of thousands of people with disabilities from institutionalization.
Today, Ms. Curtis receives community-based support and enjoys life outside the confines of institutional living. Her artistic talent and passion for creativity have motivated her to make art and advocacy her life’s work. Her artwork, typically done in pastels and acrylics, are heartfelt, bold expressions of how deeply she values personal relationships. They are mainly portraits, capturing intense emotions with simple lines and bold colors. “I feel good about myself. Sometimes I put my mind on the earth and go to the future where my art pictures are on the wall. People would love to see my pretty art pictures because they will take them to heaven and hug them forever,” says Ms. Curtis. Her supporters have arranged for dozens of art shows in the Atlanta area, and she is now an invited speaker to conferences nationwide. Pictured: Lois sings her favorite “Get Closer” song during her day at the Peer Center, a day support facility where she spends several hours, three days a week. ©Robin Nelson 2009

Meet the Author

Lauren Appelbaum

Lauren Appelbaum is the VP, Communications and Entertainment & News Media, of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so all people with disabilities can fully participate in every aspect of community. As an individual with an acquired nonvisible disability – Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy – she works at the intersection of disability, employment, Hollywood and politics. She regularly conducts trainings on the why and how to be more inclusive and accessible for entertainment executives throughout the industry. Appelbaum partners with studios, production companies and writers’ rooms to create equitable and accessible opportunities to increase the number of people with lived disability experience throughout the overall story-telling process. These initiatives increase diverse and authentic representation of disabled people on screen, leading to systemic change in how society views and values people with disabilities. She has consulted on more than 100 TV episodes and films with A&E, Bunim-Murray Productions, NBCUniversal, Netflix, ViacomCBS, and The Walt Disney Company, among others. She represents RespectAbility on the CAA Full Story Initiative Advisory Council, Disney+ Content Advisory Council, MTV Entertainment Group Culture Code and Sundance Institute’s Allied Organization Initiative. She is the author of The Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit and the creator of an innovative Lab Program for entertainment professionals with disabilities working in development, production and post-production. She is a recipient of the 2020 Roddenberry Foundation Impact Award for this Lab. To reach her, email

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