The History of Independent Living

The Independent Living (IL) movement began in the late 1960s and early 1970s when society was in the midst of a growing civil rights movement. Ed Roberts, one of the founders of the IL movement, was denied admission to the University of California at Berkeley because of his disability. He challenged that decision and won, but was forced to live in a medical facility on campus .

Fighting against the restrictions and the perception of being sick, Ed worked with other students to organize practical supports, such as accessible housing and personal assistant services. This allowed them to live on their own. Hearing of their success, many people contacted them for information and support. In 1972, the first Center for Independent Living (CIL) was formed in Berkeley.

Centers for Independent Living

A CIL is a non-residential, not-for-profit, community-based agency that provides the core services of Independent Living. A CIL is more than just an organization. It embodies a movement with a philosophy rooted in principles similar to the civil rights and women’s movements. The Independent Living Movement developed in response to systems that were inaccessible and excluded people with disabilities.

The Independent Living Philosophy

The philosophy of independent living holds to principles that contrast the IL model with the traditional rehabilitation model. In the IL model, the society with barriers and negative attitudes toward disability is the problem and in need of change, rather than the individual with a disability.

The IL movement has fostered a particular definition of independence: “Independence is the ability to control one’s own life by making responsible choices from acceptable options.” To ensure “acceptable options” exist and prevent inappropriate institutionalization, CILs offer a variety of services, called the five core services: advocacy, independent living, information and referral, peer consultation and transition.