In the early 1970s, at places like the first Center for Independent Living in Berkeley, California founded by disability activists like Ed Roberts, a philosophy took root on the simple notion that people with disabilities had the right to control their own lives. It was, and unfortunately, still seems to be a radical idea that is really very simple.
It’s unthinkable to a lot of folks without disabilities who assume they know what's best for us. Those folks may be well-meaning parents, profit-driven HMOs, burned-out bureaucrats, everyone but people with disabilities. This radical idea, thankfully, has blossomed and today there are hundreds of CILs throughout the nation, in all 50 states and in every major city. A Center for Independent Living, or CIL, is a private, non-profit consumer-controlled entity which provides free non-residential and non-medical independent living services for people of all ages with all types of disabilities.
Consumer-controlled means that over 51% of the Board of Directors and staff at a CIL are people with various types of disabilities. Every Center for Independent Living has four services that it must offer. These services are advocacy, peer support, information and referral, and independent living skills training.
Advocacy is working to remove the barriers to independent living and the encouragement of full inclusion in all aspects of community life. After all, every person with a disability deserves and should have access to full citizenship. Often, CILs will advocate for the rights of one person in his or her own community.
CILs also work to achieve change that will benefit thousands or even millions of persons with disabilities statewide and across the country. This kind of systems change is often achieved through legislative and regulatory advocacy. Systems advocacy focuses on barrier removal and equal access to different aspects of society. Many CILs may have advocacy boards and committees that meet with City and County representatives to talk about area in their community that need to be addressed and made more accessible.
Peer support provides the opportunity for people to learn and grow by discussing their needs, concerns and issues with people who have had similar experiences. Staff who have disabilities themselves will provide the peer support most of the time. Sometimes individuals will receive their support from another person with a disability in the community such as another veteran or person with a similar disability. Sometimes they will take part in a support group among others in similar situations.
Information and referral gives people access to information and resources they need to make informed choices and get what they need to live independently. For nearly five years, I was information and referral coordinator at a CIL in Charlotte, N.C. I had a vast database of information at my fingertips to relay to people calling for goods, services and programs in their area to help them become more independent.
Independent living skills training helps individuals acquire the skills they need to live the way they choose. Often it will include teaching people how to hire and manage their own personal assistants, care for physical needs related to their disability, access and use community transportation systems or how to communicate effectively. Who better than another peer with a disability to show someone the “tricks of the trade”?
Some CILs may also offer nursing home transition services to assist people with disabilities in moving from an institutionalized setting out into the community based on that person’s needs and the offerings in the community. There may also be low cost loan programs for adaptive equipment and assistive technology. CILs will also have suggestions on other community services that are a good fit for your situation. Check with your area CIL to see what services and programs they offer that can make the world more accessible to you.
Content copyright © 2009 by Monica J. Foster. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Monica J. Foster. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Monica J. Foster for details.