It Started with ATTITUDES

Many people living today with disabilities have rejected stereotypes and attitudes about people with disabilities in general. They reject the images of pity, notions of heroism, and expectations of dependency. Having lived the disability experience, they recognize that those attitudes have created the real barriers to their full participation as citizens. They are determined to change the manner in which all of society views them. Those individuals have come together to spread the message that the rejection of dependency and the demand for appropriate services is the only way to take have full participation and full integration. This awakening is the Independent Living Movement.

Within this new understanding of “self”, Independent Living Centers (ILC) were started by people with life-long disabilities who sought to help themselves and to help each other. The earliest ones began in Berkeley CA and New York NY during the early 1970’s. Many of the pioneers were people who were judged by professionals as “too severely disabled” and were denied basic education or vocational rehabilitation services. These individuals had accepted the fact that their disability would remain with them for the rest of their lives and they were not seeking a “cure”. Instead, they demanded an opportunity to a live a life style that was rich with the experiences of independence, jobs, families, travel, and education — The American Dream.

In the Amendments to the Rehabilitation Act of 1978, the Federal government launched an effort to create ILC’s throughout the U. S. as a means to further the Independent Living Movement. Under the legal definition, Centers are owned and operated by people with disabilities. The essential Core Services of each ILC are advocacy, peer support, information and referral, and skills training. Many states later expanded the effort through additional funding. In Pennsylvania, there are six Federal and seven State funded Centers scattered throughout the state. Each receives a significant portion of its funding through the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.

Each ILC operates as a private, non-profit corporation with an independent board of directors. Over 51% of the board are people with disabilities committed to the mission of empowerment and self-help for the people with disabilities within their communities. Over 51% of the staff and management are also people with disabilities. This personal understanding of how it “feels” to live in our society with a disability is what makes coming to an ILC unique.

Each ILC offers to the community a blend of advocacy and services. Advocacy is the hallmark of an Independent Living Center. Teaching a person to advocate for themselves is the most important part of the skills training offered by the Center. This self- advocacy often starts by loosening the unnecessary restrictions and dependencies forced upon an individual by families and loved- ones. On another level, advocacy is also the fight for adequate services or the removal of architectural barriers. Effective advocacy can only be accomplished with good sources of information and referral on laws, regulations, civil rights, assistive technology, community services and resources. Each ILC maintains a library on these resources. In the pursuit of advocacy and self-development, peer support by a person who has experienced many similar situations by virtue of their own disability can be a critical component to success in personal goals. Hence, these are the essential core services of each ILC.

Many ILC are deeply committed to helping people with disabilities remain in the least restrictive environment within their communities. Therefore, ILC’s take the lead in working for increased housing, transportation, accessibility, public education, assistive technology and personal assistance services. In addition, ILC’s are good resources for people who wish to maintain or regain their freedom from institutions, such as nursing homes.

ILC’s serve and work on behalf of all types of disabilities. They focus on the commonalities of the disability experience with the belief in strength in numbers. Within their advocacy and services, they work under the premise that human services should not be based upon specific diagnosis or the particular age of an individual. Instead, programs and services must be designed to be made available to any person that has the need of that service. For instance, all people not able to drive need transportation services and not just people who are over aged 60 or who are visually impaired. This is referred to as the “cross-disability approach.”

Centers for Independent Living have a mission to change our society and our views of ourselves. It is a mission of empowerment and self-help. It is a mission of expanded opportunity in the 21st Century.