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What is Independent Living?

A photograph of a man in wheelchair, Ed Robers, with a sign that says 'Civil Rights for the Disabled" is next to a quote, "Independent Living is a psychological idea much more than a physical concept. I'm paralyzed from the neck down, but im completely in control of my own life." - Ed Roberts

The philosophy of independent living is that of self-direction of one’s own life. The barriers to independence, in many cases, are barriers that exist in society. Those barriers can be physical, emotional, societal, attitudinal, and communicative.  Centers were established to address these various barriers, thus providing increased access in home and community for persons or consumers having severe disability.

Centers work along side persons having disability to address personal goals of independence. The Center utilizes its knowledge of available resources to help with the progression towards that goal. Consumers play an active role in their independent living plan. A Center’s relationship with consumers is NOT a medical model (the “let me help you philosophy”); rather, it is a partnership with the consumer, both consumer and staff working together to help the individual with disability do for themselves.

What Are Independent Living Centers?


Federal Regulations Mandate that Independent Living Centers are:

  • Consumer Controlled: Centers are governed by a Board of Directors comprised at least 51% persons with disability; and operated by a majority of persons having disability.

  • Community Based: Centers are located in local communities.

  • Serve Cross-Disability

  • Available to All People with Disabilities: Staff, Board members, volunteers, and people served represent a broad cross-section of disabilities.

  • Non-Residential: Centers are not places to live, nor do they own or operate places for people with disabilities to live.

  • Non-Profit: Centers are approved for non-profit status.


The History of Independent Living


In the late 1960’s, 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. In 1972, Berkeley activists established the first Independent Living Center (ILC) in California which began the promotion of the philosophy of independent living.

People with disabilities were now taking an active role on local, state and national levels in shaping issues that affected their lives. 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. Passage of the 504 made it possible for persons with disability to access education, employment, housing, transportation and entertainment, etc.

By 1978, under Rehabilitation Act Amendments, the Federal Government began to provide Title VII: B funding to establish Independent Living Centers (ILCs). Ten Centers were established, Rhode Island’s PARI Center being one on the ten. Currently there are over 400 Independent Living Centers nationwide—all providing services that emphasize personal responsibility and self-determination on the part of persons with disabilities.

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