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Lois Curtis standing behind a chain-link fence

Decatur, GA – Ten years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark “Olmstead” decision made it possible for mentally disabled persons 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 revisits the Georgia Regional Hospital in Atlanta where she spent much of her life prior to 1999. She is with Sue Jamieson, the Atlanta Legal Aid attorney who argued the case before the U.S. Supreme Court. ©Robin Nelson 2009

Meet the Author

Lauren Appelbaum
Lauren Appelbaum

Lauren Appelbaum is the Vice President, Communications, of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities, and managing editor of The RespectAbility Report, a publication at the intersection of disability and politics. Previously she was a digital researcher with the NBC News political unit. As an individual with an acquired invisible disability - Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy - she writes about the intersection of disability, employment, Hollywood and politics. From entertainment professionals to presidential campaigns, journalists to philanthropists, she conducts trainings on the why and how to be more inclusive and accessible. Behind the scenes in the entertainment industry, Appelbaum engages decision makers and creatives to improve the quality and number of authentic, diverse and inclusive presentations of people with disabilities on TV and film so audiences can see people with disabilities as vital contributors in America and around the world. She and her team have consulted on projects with Amazon, Disney/ABC Television, NBCUniversal, Netflix, and The Walt Disney Studios, among others. Appelbaum also enriches the pool of disabled talent in Hollywood by nurturing and connecting them to those who can assist with their careers, both on the creative and business sides of the industry. She is the author of The Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit, which was created to help entertainment professionals to be as inclusive of people with disabilities as possible, and the creator of an innovative Lab Program for entertainment professionals with disabilities working behind the camera. To reach her, email

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