What is it?
The Independent Living philosophy is based on the belief that persons with disabilities have the same basic human rights as persons without disabilities to participate in and contribute to community life. It is about persons with disabilities having the right and seeking the opportunity to be self-determined in matters such as living arrangements, transportation, social life, employment, and physical care.
Independent Living is a drastic shift away from the view that disabled is equivalent to sick and dependent – that persons with disabilities need to be looked after, cared for, or pitied because they’re disabled. IL’s fundamental principal is empowerment rather than “care”. It is about choice. And, it respects each person’s understanding of what independence is for them.
Independent Living is controlling and directing your own life and taking responsibility for your own actions. It is knowing what choices are available and selecting what is right for you. Independent Living means being as self-sufficient as possible. It means taking risks and being allowed to succeed and fail on your own terms.
Independent Living means being able to exercise the greatest degree of choice about where you live, with whom you live, how you live, where you work, and how you use your time. It means participating in community life and pursuing activities of your own choosing.
What is it NOT?
Independent Living does not seek to define independence and task others to fit into that definition. And, Independent Living does not seek to ignore professionals.
The Bottom Line
Independent Living is interested in having a person with a disability direct his/her own life and services. Independent Living is interested in promoting better utilizations of services. Independent Living is interested in a person with a disability’s sense of self-esteem. Bottom line – Independent Living is BOTH a philosophy of life AND a philosophy for service provision.
The History of Independent Living
The First Stirrings
In the late 1960’s in California, a group of Berkeley students with severe disabilities recognized that their options for self-determination were greatly limited by the existing medical and rehabilitation systems. They knew that with certain skills and support services, they could control their own lives. Attempts to acquire the necessary network of supports were met with resistance from the medical and rehabilitation communities. Professionals were unwilling to believe that persons with such severe disabilities were capable of surviving without their “care”. When, in 1972, the Berkeley activists established the first Independent Living Center and began using the methods of the now growing self-help movement to prove otherwise, Independent Living became a full-fledged civil rights issue.
The Essence of the Movement
People with disabilities were now taking an active role on local, state and national levels in shaping issues that affected their lives. Active, effective advocacy by people with disabilities for people with disabilities became the essence of the movement. Community-based groups formed to address problems, identify barriers, and develop action plans to educate their communities and influence policy makers.
In 1973, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, sometimes called the Civil Rights Act for the Disabled, was put into effect. This legislation, which prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in programs, services and benefits that are federally funded, set the foundation for future generations of individuals with disabilities to have access to and be able to engage in life pursuits not afforded previous generations of individuals with disabilities. Pursuits their able-bodied counterparts had taken for granted – education, employment, housing, transportation, entertainment, etc.
The Establishment of ILCs
By 1978, under Rehabilitation Act Amendments, the Federal Government began to provide funding to establish Independent Living Centers in virtually every state and U.S. territory. In 1979, in New York State, two (2) centers were funded with Federal independent living monies. Three (3) more were funded by the New York State Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. In 1980, four (4) more ILCs were established in New York State, the Westchester Independent Living Center (WILC) being one of them. When funding was cut in 1981, an almost immediate cry went to the NYS Legislature to supplement the remaining Federal dollars. Two Years later, not only did the Legislature make the existing nine (9) centers a statutory program, but seeing the need for services provided by ILCs, they created ten (10) additional centers throughout the state. And, in 1986, legislative initiative created sixteen (16) more centers. There are now thirty-nine (39) ILCs in New York State and hundreds more scattered throughout the United States and its territories – all providing services that emphasize personal responsibility and self-determination on the part of persons with disabilities.