Independent Living is the term used by disabled people to sum up their expectation of access to the opportunities enjoyed by their non-disabled peers. It describes the political aspiration for the inclusion of disabled people in society and the practical choices being looked for to enable this. This term also includes older disabled people, and people in residential establishments of any age.
Independent Living and Disabled People
Most people would define Independence in terms of those activities someone is physically able to carry out for themselves. Following this line of reasoning, Independent Living would thus probably be explained in terms of the ability to provide for ones own basic physical and intellectual needs on a day to day basis. Thus one of the ways disabled people and non-disabled people are defined as such is via notions of dependency. In many people’s view, to be disabled is to be dependent on others or to have choice compromised.
The trouble with such a widely accepted viewpoint is that it omits to recognise that human beings are social animals and that we are all inter-dependent on each other for many of our needs. Those people with the financial ability to do so might chose to employ someone to do many of life’s everyday chores, like washing, cooking and cleaning, but in such a scenario they are still considered to be independent and not regarded as dependant on others.
Independent Living means something very different to disabled people. It is no longer defined in terms of what activities the individual can or cannot do for themselves, but is about having control over the resources that enable us to exert influence, choice and control over every aspect of our life. It has evolved into a worldwide philosophy, since its origins in Berkeley, California in the early 1970s, when some seriously disabled students at UCLA rebelled against the inflexible and impractical arrangements provided to meet their care needs and demanded control of the resources to arrange for their own needs.
This led to the establishment of the original Centre for Independent Living and the beginning of a world wide movement for change, led by disabled people themselves. It is a grass roots movement, which responds to the wishes and aspirations in disabled people’s endeavours for an inclusive society.
In the UK, the Independent Living movement continues to grow. There is a clear move towards a greater degree of control, by organisations of disabled people, of resources and more and more Centres for Independent Living (CILs) are being established.
2002 saw the establishment of a Centre for Independent Living in Kent, based at the Red Cross building in College Rd, Maidstone. The management committee is now in the process of formulating in this document, a five year strategy to provide peer support, practical help and services to disabled people who wish to control their own support and assistance requirements.