Disability Law Center files lawsuit against Utah departments and services

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SALT LAKE CITY – The Disability Law Center has filed a class action lawsuit against the Utah Department of Health, The Utah Division of Service for People with Disabilities, the Utah Department of Human Services and others. The lawsuit alleges the state is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Staci Christiansen is listed as a plaintiff in the lawsuit. She says she has been living in institutionalized care for nine years.

“Why am I so different? Why should I be treated any differently instead of being treated as an equal and respected,” Christiansen said of living in an institution.

The plaintiffs claim the state’s actions unfairly segregate people living with intellectual disabilities.

“What I’ve learned with this case is that the idiom, out of sight out of mind remains powerful and true and can have terrible consequences,” said Juliette White of the Disability Law Center.

The lawsuit alleges the state has an obligation to devise a plan to get people with intellectual disabilities out of intermediate care facilities and living in the community. The lawsuit claims Utah is doing the opposite.

“Nationwide, states tend to be moving away from this model for multiple reasons,” said Aaron Kinikini of the Disability Law Center. “Utah is an outlier in that way. Not only is the ICF system healthy and robust and profitable. They are building more of them.”

The plaintiffs are asking the court to demand that the state transition people living institutions into home and community-based services. They also want the state to reverse what they believe is the alarming trend of relying on institutionalized care for people with developmental disabilities.

In a statement sent to Fox 13, the Utah Department of Health said, “we are engaged in an ongoing process to use funding appropriated by the State Legislature to transition individuals to community settings.”

For Staci Christiansen, that change can’t come soon enough. She’s waited nearly a decade to break away from living in an institution.

“It’s something that I want to live for every day—to be able to complete my full potential,” Christiansen said.