Independent Living Institute


Various disability groups

Independent Living for various disability groups

The history of Independent Living as a specific process whereby disabled persons are enabled to be more self-directing and participating to an integrated manner in the community, shows very clearly that it is a process tried, tested, and proved for persons with severe mobility and visual impairments as evidenced by the literature in both the U.S.A. and Canada. The personal assistance service so closely associated with Independent Living in the United States is a service particularly required by persons with mobility disabilities. As indicated in the Zukas history of CIL in California, a deliberate decision in 1972 brought persons with visual disabilities into the Independent Living process where they have remained ever since, using Independent Living services particularly suited to their needs such as reader referral services.

Since the deaf and hearing impaired community is also desirous of living in as much as possible a self-directing, integrated manner in society and has a membership which is quite capable of achieving this, it would seem they too should benefit from involvement in the specific processes we have called Independent Living. That they have not done so to this time may be explained in part by communication difficulties between this group and others, the fact of their own American sign language culture, and a history which did not include recent institutionalization to the same degree as is the case for blind and mobility disabled persons. Another factor which would bear consideration is that for most profoundly deaf persons in the American Sign Language (ASL) culture, integration does not mean integration of the individual in society at large but rather, integration of their community into the community of communities which makes up our society. It seems reasonable to think that sign language interpreter referral services, Independent Living skill training, and various other adaptations of Independent Living services would be of great benefit to hearing impaired and deaf individuals.

In the area of psychiatric and intellectual disabilities, some more profound difficulties may occur in an attempt to modify Independent Living concepts and services for use by these groups. For example, the central concept of self direction/self-determination, may present some difficulty for some intellectually disadvantaged persons and for some psychiatrically disabled persons. Still, there may be great benefit to be gained by researching the application of Independent Living concepts and processes to these disability categories.

A person with an intellectual disadvantage, for example, might benefit from some staff assistance, just as a mobility disabled person does by way of a personal care attendant, or the deaf individual does by way of a sign language interpreter. Intellectually disadvantaged persons might benefit from services of someone whom he/she trusted to simplify complex matters and analyze these for reasonable options for the intellectually disadvantaged person to choose from. The Community Services Model in British Columbia also offers an interesting parallel to the personal assistance program in California, (often associated with Independent Living}, inasmuch as it makes governmental moneys available to the disabled individual's family or guardian in much the same way as California makes moneys available to the disabled individual for the purchase of personal assistance services. In the Community Service Model of British Columbia, the family or guardian of the intellectually disadvantaged person is then able to purchase services including the services of a broker who assists the intellectually disadvantaged person with day-to-day living decisions.

Valuable research could also be done with psychiatrically disabled persons in order to determine whether Independent Living concepts and processes could be applied to this group. These disabled persons have a long and tragic history of institutionalization as do persons with intellectual disadvantages. Drug discoveries of the past two decades have led to massive de-institutionalization for psychiatrically disabled persons. Unfortunately, the side effects of these drugs and other treatments are debilitating themselves. The result has been some very unsatisfactory re-institutionalization in boarding houses where they are neither integrated and participating in the community nor truly self-directing in that, for the most part, very few options are available to them. It seems reasonable to think that some form of assistance to compensate for some of the side effects of the drugs these individuals must use could improve the variety and quality of options available to them, and perhaps allow them to live in a more integrated manner in the community. Peer counseling and support would almost surely be of some help to psychiatrically disabled persons. At this point, however, the idea of Independent Living applications to psychiatrically disabled persons is, in the main, somewhat speculative and would require some very fundamental research to determine the feasibility of such applications.

It is important to understand that Independent Living as a specific process of benefit to disabled persons has largely been limited to persons with mobility and visual disabilities. This is not a fatal flaw by any means, rather it is a mark of its versatility as a technique for ameliorating the conditions of disabled persons, and advancing their status in the important ways it does, that it is applicable to persons with various physical disabilities. Many other concepts are applicable only to more limited sub-categories of disabled persons. Complete and absolute versatility should not be required or expected of Independent Living. At the same time, it is important that some research be initiated into the application of Independent Living processes for persons with intellectual and psychiatric disabilities.

Independent Living Resource Center,
207-294 Portage Avenue, Winnipeg, Man. R3C 0B9, Canada.

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