An American definition of Independent Living

An American definition of Independent Living
ILRU at Texas Institute for Rehabilitation

What is Independent Living?

 Essentially, it is living just like everyone else - having opportunities to make decisions that affect one's life, able to pursue activities of one's own choosing - limited only in the same ways that one's nondisabled neighbors are limited.

Independent living should not be defined in terms of living on one's own, being employed in a job fitting one's capabilities and interests, or having an active social life. These are aspects of living independently. Independent living has to do with self-determination. It is having the right and the opportunity to pursue a course of action. And, it is having the freedom to fail - and to learn from one's failures, just as nondisabled people do.

There are, of course, individuals who have certain mental impairments which may affect their abilities to make complicated decisions or pursue complex activities. For these individuals, Independent Living means having every opportunity to be as self-sufficient as possible.

Independent living. It isn't easy, and it can be risky. But millions of people with disabilities rate it higher than a life of dependency and narrow opportunities and unfulfilled expectations.

Independent Living centers

 Fortunately, people with disabilities don't have to do it all on their own. The purpose of this brochure is to describe a kind of service organization which is designed specifically to assist people with disabilities who themselves have been successful in establishing independent lives. These people have both training and the personal experience to know exactly what is needed to live independently. And, they have deep commitment to assisting other disabled people in becoming more independent.
Services of Independent Living centers

Centers offer a wide variety of services. Four are essential to efforts of people with disabilities to live independently, including:

  • Information and referral: Centers maintain comprehensive information files on availability in their communities of accessible housing; transportation; employment opportunities; rosters of persons available to serve as personal assistants, interpreters for hearing impaired people, or readers for visually impaired people; and many other services.
  • Independent living skills training: Centers provide training courses to help people with disabilities gain skills that would enable them to live more independently; courses may include using various public transportation systems, managing a personal budget, dealing with intensive and discriminatory behavior by members of the general public, and many other subjects.
  • Peer counseling: Centers offer a service in which a person with a disability can work with other persons who have disabilities and who are living independently in the community. The objective is to explore options and to solve problems that sometimes occur for people with disabilities, for example, making adjustments to a newly acquired disability, experiencing changes in living arrangements, or learning to use community services more effectively.
  • Advocacy: Centers provide two kinds of advocacy: 1) consumer advocacy, which involves center staff working with persons with disabilities to obtain necessary support services from other agencies in the community and 2) community advocacy, which involves center staff, board members, and volunteers initiating activities to make changes in the community that make it easier for all persons with disabilities to live more independently.
  • Other services: Centers also offer a number of other services, generally depending on specific needs of their consumers and lack of availability elsewhere in the community. Among the most frequently provided services are community education and other public education services, equipment repair, recreational activities, and home modifications.

How Independent Living centers differ from other service organizations

There are many different types of organizations which serve people with disabilities - state vocational rehabilitation agencies, group homes, rehabilitation hospitals, sheltered workshops, nursing homes, senior centers, home health care agencies and so forth. These organizations provide valuable services and are important links in the network of services that help people with disabilities maintain independent lifestyles.

What makes Independent Living centers very different from these other organizations is that centers have substantial involvement of people with disabilities making policy decisions and delivering services. Why this emphasis on control by people with disabilities? The basic idea behind Independent Living is that the ones who know best what services people with disabilities need in order to live independently are disabled people themselves.

A final word on Independent Living

Changes that make life more satisfying don't occur overnight. But, for people who are willing to work toward greater independence, Independent Living centers can help put the pieces together.

ILRU at Texas Institute for Rehabilitation,
2323 S. Shepherd, Suite 1000, Houston, TX 77019, United States.

Tools for Power contents