In some quarters, being disabled makes a person a victim. And they are treated accordingly, with sympathy, as an outsider, as someone who is less than equal by the standards of society.
While many disabled people accept this notion, there are also a significant block of disabled people who reject the notion completely, instead empowering themselves to do for themselves.
These are the people who are a part of the Independent Living Movement.
The Independent Living Movement sprang out of the greater awakening of civil rights in the 1960s, when a group of disabled students at the University of California, Berkeley began working toward the removal of architectural barriers on the campus and in the nearby community. The group became more organized and reached out to others who were disabled, creating a new model for how people with disabilities could be self-sufficient and learn to live on their own as much as possible.
The movement grew into a philosophy that was important because it brought together people from all walks of life with many different kinds of disabilities to unite for a single purpose. Instead of fighting between groups of disability-specific organizations, these people banded together to create a voice that was larger than the sum of its parts. For example, instead of groups advocating only for spinal cord injuries competing with other groups such as multiple sclerosis or polio, the groups joined forces, making it easier to seek institutional changes.
The other important thing that happened with the birth of the Independent Living Movement was that disabled people felt less compelled to be reliant on the charity of the government and other high-level nonprofits. By taking control of their own needs, ILM members had a greater say in how they wanted to be treated and perceived by society.
Over the years, the Independent Living Movement has spread from North America throughout the world. While many of the principles are universal, the Movement has been enriched by different cultures and economic conditions. But the core beliefs are universally the same. Disabled people don’t necessarily want or need to do everything for themselves, they want the same choices and control in their lives as non-disabled people do.
As the Movement matured, Centers for Independent Living began springing up across the United States. These centers were formally recognized as part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that defined them as a “consumer-controlled, community-based, cross-disability, nonresidential private nonprofit agencies.”
To be considered a Center for Independent Living, a majority of the staff and the Board of Directors (at least 51%) must have disabilities. Each center must provide five core services as well:
- Information and referrals
- Independent living skills training
- Individual and systems advocacy
- Peer counseling
- Transition services, assisting with the transition from institutions to community-based residences and other related situations.
The Independent Living Research Utilization in conjunction with The National Council on Independent Living maintains a website that lists all Centers for Independent Living throughout the United States. It’s located here.
and also offers a wealth of information on training, disabled rights, technical assistance, housing, health and wellness, and other resources to help people who are interested in learning more about the Independent Living Movement.
The Independent Living Movement also gave rise to the National Council on Independent Living. For the past 30+ years, the NCIL has become the leading advocacy group for people with disabilities, lobbying for human and civil rights for all people, regardless of their disability. The NCIL has also acted as a unifying force, helping to creating Statewide Independent Living Councils in every state in the country. To see a complete list of services and NCIL policy positions, go here.