At ACL, our goal is to make community living possible for everyone. We believe community living should always be the expectation, and that older adults and people with disabilities should be able to live alongside people of all ages, with and without disabilities, with the same opportunities to learn, work, and play. One of the ways we are working to make that principle a reality is by funding services, support, and training to help older adults and people with disabilities achieve and maintain independence. These programs are primarily provided by community-based organizations, such as centers for independent living (CILs).
On Wednesday, Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan and I had the pleasure of visiting with staff and consumers from three D.C.-area CILs: the Endependence Center of Northern Virginia (ECNV), Independence Now (MD), and the DC Center for Independent Living (DC CIL).
Centers for Independent Living are community-based, cross-disability nonprofit agencies that provide services and opportunities that enable people with disabilities live independently. The defining feature that makes CILs effective is that they are consumer-controlled, meaning they are run by and for people with disabilities. Several people mentioned how meaningful it was to them that the people offering services, training, and support have faced and addressed similar barriers. They share similar hopes and aspirations. For CIL consumers, CIL staff become trusted peers, mentors, and role models.
As ECNV Executive Director James Garrett put it, “the beauty of CILs is that it is a very holistic approach.”
Here are a few of the people we met:
- Tyree is a talented young artist who experienced a spinal cord injury while in college. She was told to expect to spend the rest of her life in a nursing home. Independence Now helped her transition out of a nursing home, ride a bus for the first time since her accident, find accessible housing, and get tuition assistance and accommodations to complete her degree at the Corcoran School of Art. Though she primarily drew with her right hand before her accident, she learned to draw with her left hand and she shared with us two beautiful portraits she recently completed.
- Josephine’s mother had been her primary caregiver since she had a childhood stroke. When her mother became ill, Josephine decided it was time to become more independent. ECNV helped her move into a room of her own in a group home, learn to use public transit, and get six hours of personal care assistance a week through a Medicaid waiver. The combination of skills and support are helping her experience a new level of independence and work towards her goal of getting a job in the community,
- Lynn worked with the DC CIL after losing her vision. The CIL connected her with orientation and mobility training and peer counseling to help her move around her community with ease and end her homelessness, securing a place that she moved into just this week. Lynn is now a disability advocate and facilitates a peer group for other people with disabilities.
- Cali sustained a severe TBI and other injuries in a car accident when she was in middle school. Initially undiagnosed, the TBI caused cognitive processing and memory gaps. A straight-A student who had participated in her school’s gifted and talented program and won awards for writing, art and photography before her accident, Cali’s began to struggle, and her school system recommended she be moved to another school. ECNV helped Cali’s mother fight for the accommodations she needed to succeed, and continue to support Cali and her mother as they advocated for her to be able to participate in honors courses and school activities. Cali told us, "I had people put in my life, through grace, that helped me learn how to be myself but also how to tell people what I needed." Cali graduated high school at the top of her class and now organizes trainings on supporting students with disabilities for professors at her college.
- Dianna spent years in a nursing home after an accident. “I never thought I was going to be able to get into the community again because I didn’t know how,” she said. With support from “the angels” at ECNV, she was able to find the housing and supports she needed to live in the community. “They helped me so much…I feel very blessed.” Dianna is an artist and a musician; painting was an important part of her life before her accident. Before her accident, she painted on large canvases hung on the wall, using a ladder. With the help of ECNV, she has adapted her technique to accommodate her disability, painting with the canvas on the floor.
All of these people are living their lives on their own terms, because of their hard work and thanks to the help of their CILs. We’re proud of the work that CILs do to make it possible for people with disabilities to live independently, in their communities, alongside people without disabilities. Watch a video of our visit.
Learn more about Centers for Independent Living or find a local CIL. Download a graphic about how Centers for Independent Living make community living possible.