Independent Living Philosophy
The birth of the independent living movement has been attributed to a group of students with disabilities at U.C. Berkeley. In 1962, the first student with a significant disability, Ed Roberts (considered the “father of independent living”) was admitted to U.C. Berkeley; housing was provided at the campus hospital. By 1969, the number of students with significant disabilities had increased to 12. The U.C. hospital surroundings were familiar to the new tenants, who had spent countless days and nights in custodial institutions.
A sense of unity and self-confidence developed as the residents lived in close, continuing contact with each other. As they became more aware of the degree to which control over their lives had been taken over by medical and rehabilitation professionals, the students drew on their own experience to develop a philosophy of independent living. The students believed that they didn’t need to change to become integrated, but rather the environment and the attitudes toward persons with disabilities needed to change. The core of these students moved on to start the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley.
There are now Centers for Independent Living (CILs) globally and in every state in the U.S., with 9 serving most of the State of Georgia.
The entire focus of the Independent Living Movement is the realization that freedom to make choices and the ability to live in the community is a basic civil right that should be extended to all people, regardless of disability. With this framework, CILs work with and for the consumer to promote his or her independence in the community.
This differs from many social service agencies which play a caretaker or protector role to “vulnerable populations.” CILs believe that the freedom to make choices, including mistakes, empowers people to further their involvement in their life and community.
Persons with disabilities are not clients who are told by professionals what is best for them; rather they are consumers of services. They make informed decisions on the goals they want to achieve and CILs empower them with the tools to help them achieve those goals. It’s consumer control: “Nothing about us without us.”
Within a center, at least 51 percent of staff at a CIL have a disability, as does 51 percent of the center’s management team and the board of directors. These factors underscore the importance of consumer control in the CIL. The center vests power and authority in individuals with disabilities and is designed by and for the local disability community.