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The Consent Decree

In 1978, the state decided to settle the lawsuit, rather than go to trial. The result was a two-part consent decree that detailed rights of persons with developmental disabilities at Pineland and in the community. The right to live in the least restrictive and most normal conditions possible was a primary right. 

Newspaper clipping from the Lewiston Daily Sun, July 6, 1978 – Headline: Settlement Reached in Pineland Suit
Lewiston Daily Sun, July 6, 1978

The consent decree was unique in its inclusion of community standards. Both parts of the decree – in great detail – specify residents’ rights in areas including, physical environment food, staffing ratios, education, recreation and various therapies.

It set deadlines for compliance. The state and communities had to create non-institutional housing, support services, education, and programming – and improve facilities, programming, and services at Pineland.

In 2010, the court released the state from oversight, deeming it in compliance. Many involved in the case and in providing services to persons with developmental disabilities have said the state never fully complied and still has not.

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Values Check

Who and what do we value in our society? How do we determine someone’s “worth”, and whether they are deserving of help when they need it? Are all people really equal – and do we treat everyone as equally human?

People with developmental disabilities were sent to institutions because they were seen as useless or even dangerous to society. Their value in a place like Pineland rested on their potential for being trained to do menial labor – a Pineland resident could potentially get a furlough or even release from the institution if they could show that they could work.

In general, people with developmental disabilities throughout our history have been dismissed, patronized, and dehumanized. Doctors assumed that people with developmental disabilities didn’t feel pain, caretakers believed that they did not need friendships or hobbies or someone to communicate with, and society saw them as dangerous and unfit.

There were also people and moments in history that shifted our assumptions about the value of people with developmental disabilities – President Kennedy’s experience of loving his sister with disabilities led to huge policy shifts that impacted people with developmental disabilities across our country, and the brave self-advocates who organized a civil rights movement led directly to another president signing the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The question must be posed, what is the value of all potential members of the community, with or without disability, to the very health and fiber of the community?