Independent Living, as seen by its advocates, is a philosophy, a way of looking at disability and society, and a worldwide movement of people with disabilities who proclaim to work for self-determination, self-respect and equal opportunities.
In most countries, proponents of the Independent Living Movement claim preconceived notions and a predominantly medical view of disability contribute to negative attitudes towards people with disabilities, portraying them as sick, defective and deviant persons, as objects of professional intervention, as a burden for themselves and their families, dependent on other people's charity. These images, in the Independent Living analysis, have consequences for disabled people's opportunities for raising families of their own, getting education and work, which, in turn, result in persons with disabilities making up a large portion of the poor in any country.
Independent Living means controlling and directing your own life. It means taking risks and being allowed to succeed and fail on your own terms. It means participating in community life and pursuing activities of your own choosing. Independent Living is knowing what choices are available, selecting what is right for you, and taking responsibility for your own actions.
For people with disabilities affecting their ability to make complicated decisions or pursue complex activities, independent living means being as self-sufficient as possible. It means being able to exercise the greatest degree of choice in where you live, with whom you live, how to live, where you work, with whom you work and how to use your time.
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What Are Different Types of Independent Living Centers?
- Consumer Controlled: Centers are run by a board of directors, more than half of whom are people with disabilities.
- Community Based: Centers are located throughout New York State in local communities.
- Available to All People with Disabilities: Staff, board members, volunteers, and people served represent a broad cross-section of disabilities.
- Non-Residential: Centers are not places to live, nor do they own or operate places for people with disabilities to live.
- Non-Profit: Centers are approved for non-profit status with the New York State Attorney General's office.
Who Does an Independent Living Center Serve?
- People with all physical and mental disabilities.
- People with disabilities of all ages.
- Parents, spouses, siblings, and significant others of people with disabilities.
- People with disabilities living in their own homes, supported living arrangements, institutional settings, and elsewhere.
- School personnel
- Business and industry
- Local government agencies
- Human Service organizations
- Volunteer sector organizations
- Hospitals, health organizations, and the medical community
- Civic organizations
What Services do Independent Living Centers Provide?
All Independent Living Centers provide a set of core services geared toward promoting self-help, equal access, peer role modeling, personal growth, and empowerment. The scope of services is directed by individual and community needs. The core services are as follows:
- Peer Counseling is provided between two or more individuals with disabilities, to share ideas and experiences about living with a disability, in order to gain greater awareness and control over ones own life.
- Independent Living Skills Training teaches everyday life skills and is often provided by people with disabilities. Training may include budgeting, meal preparation, arranging transportation, or personal assistance services, job seeking, and self-advocacy.
- Information and Referral Services aim to provide individuals with resources and options that may be necessary in making informed choices about living, learning, and working independently.
- Individual and Systems Advocacy addresses access to equal opportunities in exercising social, economic, educational, and legal rights. Independent Living Centers work with individuals, community organizations, state/national networks; to promote full inclusion of people with disabilities, and to improve the implementation of existing laws: federal, State, and local.
Other services that are often provided include:
- Housing assistance
- Acquiring and maintaining appropriate benefits and entitlements
- Architectural and communication barrier consultation
- Personal counseling that is non-clinical and short term in nature to address individual goals
- Securing, learning how to use, repair, and maintain equipment
- Assistance in registering to vote
- In-service training, workshops/seminars on disability issues, disability laws and Independent Living philosophy
- Disability awareness training
- Developing Plans to Achieve Self Support (PASS) for recipients of public assistance - SSI/SSDI
- Specialized training and services specific to certain communities
The Independent Living philosophy postulates that people with disabilities are the best experts on their needs, and therefore they must take the initiative, individually and collectively, in designing and promoting better solutions and must organize themselves for political power. Besides de-professionalization and self-representation, the Independent Living ideology comprises de-medicalization of disability, de-institutionalization and cross-disability (i.e. inclusion in the Independent Living Movement regardless of diagnoses).
In the Independent Living philosophy, disabled people are primarily seen as citizens and only secondarily as consumers of healthcare, rehabilitation or social services. As citizens in democratic societies, the Independent Living Movement claims, persons with disabilities have the same right to participation, to the same range of options, degree of freedom, control and self-determination in every day life and life projects that other citizens take for granted. Thus, Independent Living activists demand the removal of infrastructural, institutional and attitudinal barriers and the adoption of the Universal Design principle. Depending on the individual's disability, support services such as assistive technology, income supplements or personal assistance are seen as necessary to achieve equal opportunities. As emphasized by the Independent Living Movement, needs assessment and service delivery must enable users to control their services, to freely choose among competing service providers and to live with dignity in the community. Cash benefits or Direct Payments are favored by Independent Living activists over services in kind in terms of the outcomes for users' quality of life and cost-efficiency.
Over the years, the Independent Living Movement has spread from North America to all continents, adapting itself to and getting enriched by different cultures and economic conditions in the process. A considerable body of research, training materials and examples of good practice exists on such themes as transition from institutional to community living, transition from school to employment or self-employment, community organizing and advocacy, disability culture, girls and women with disabilities as well as disability and development. Supporting the movement and utilizing its work has become an important ingredient of many countries' social policy.
"Independent Living does not mean that we want to do everything by ourselves, do not need anybody or like to live in isolation. Independent Living means that we demand the same choices and control in our every-day lives that our non-disabled brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends take for granted. We want to grow up in our families, go to the neighborhood school, use the same bus as our neighbors, work in jobs that are in line with our education and interests, and raise families of our own. We are profoundly ordinary people sharing the same need to feel included, recognized and loved."
Centers for Independent Living
In 1972, the first Center for Independent Living was founded by disability activists, led by Ed Roberts, in Berkeley, California. These Centers were created to offer peer support and role modeling, and are run and controlled by persons with disabilities. According to the Independent Living approach, the example of a peer, somebody who has been in a similar situation, can be more powerful than a non-disabled professional's interventions in analyzing one's situation, in assuming responsibility for one's life and in developing coping strategies.
According to the Independent Living Movement, with peer support, everyone - including persons with extensive developmental disabilities - can learn to take more initiative and control over their lives. For example, peer support is used in Independent Living Skills classes where people living with their families or in institutions learn how to run their everyday lives in preparation for living by themselves.
Depending on the public services in the community, Centers might assist with housing referral and adaptation, personal assistance referral, or legal aid. Typically, Centers work with local and regional governments to improve infrastructure, raise awareness about disability issues and lobby for legislation that promotes equal opportunities and prohibits discrimination.
- A People's History of the Independent Living Movement
- Independent Living Research Utilization, Houston, Texas, one of the oldest and most comprehensive US research, training and dissemination centers
- Rehabilitation Research & Training Center on Independent Living Management
- Independent Living Institute, Sweden runs virtual library and online services incl a list of study, training and volunteer work opportunities open to persons with disabilities
- World Institute on Disability, Independent Living Movement's research and policy center
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Independent Living", and information from the New York State Education Department's Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities.