Independent living for people with disabilities builds self-esteem and helps people help themselves and their peers. Independent living empowerment programs enable them to acquire the special skills they need to join the general community and be productive and self-sufficient. People with disabilities can have a better quality of life if they take advantage of the services offered by independent living centres in their communities. These include independent living skills training, job placement, making homes accessible, and advocacy for benefits and civil rights.
The Independent Living Movement
The independent living movement began in the 1960s. A decade later, a group of politically active students with disabilities at the University of California, Berkeley, set up the first centre for independent living, CIL, in 1972. The movement's central idea was that people with disabilities should be autonomous and respected and should have the same opportunities as anyone else. Advocates of this movement demanded that people with disabilities be given educational opportunities and jobs they were qualified for, despite their disabilities. They advocated for curb cuts to make streets in Berkeley wheelchair accessible. They also fought to get the Rehabilitation Act passed in 1973, and worked for the Americans with Disabilities Act. The independent living movement was successful all over the world, and legislation favouring people with disabilities was passed in many countries as a result.
Learning Independent Living Skills
Independent living centres offer many services to the disabled population. These include teaching independent living skills, For example, people who are newly blind are taught how to use a cane and negotiate their home and outdoor environments. People with motor impairments are taught to use appliances and implements around the house, in the public domain, and at work, such as specially adapted computers. The Independent Living Institute, based in Sweden, offers information and resources to help people with disabilities find the services they need to live independently. In the United States, Disability.gov is a federal government website that describes itself as a "community-driven information network of disability-related programs, services, laws and benefits" (see Resources).
Independent living depends on accessibility. People in wheelchairs and with motor impairments must be able to get onto public transportation and into buildings in order to travel and get to work. Ramps and wheelchair lifts make this possible. Vigilant advocacy for independent living keeps local authorities, private contractors and the public aware of how important it is for workplaces, public buildings and places of entertainment to be accessible to everyone. The United States Access Board is dedicated to addressing the issue of accessibility for people with disabilities.
People with Disabilities as Consumers
The independent living movement regards people with disabilities as a powerful group of consumers and advocates on their behalf. The Westside Center for Independent Living is a flagship independent living centre in Los Angeles, California. It was one of the first and is a forward-looking centre. WCIL focuses on providing "information and referral and direct services to consumers who can take advantage of technical and practical items that will minimise their disability." They also work to raise community awareness of disability issues and they try to bring together local businesses and community organisations to make things better for everyone.
Other Independent Living Services
Peer support and counselling groups; housing services, which include both group housing solutions and helping individuals find accessible housing; are some of the services available at independent living centres. Social workers and legal aid counsellors also provide information about what benefits are available, who is entitled to them, and how to apply for these benefits. They also help people find employment and direct them to available job training programs. The greatest advantage of independent living is the way it empowers people with disabilities and helps them achieve their maximum potential.
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