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Independent Living: From Berkeley to the ADA to ILA

July 20, 2015
Jamie Kendall, Acting Director, Independent Living Administration

Before independent living was a program, it was an idea that sparked a social movement to advance the rights of people with disabilities.

The independent living movement embodies the idea that no one should be denied dignity, self-determination, or equal opportunity simply because they are living with a disability. And no one could be a greater expert on the needs of people with disabilities than a person with a disability.

Decades before federal laws required curb cuts and workplace accommodations, this was considered a radical idea.

From this idea came the Berkeley Center for Independent Living (CIL), a community hub run by and for people with disabilities that provided peer support and services. Today, more than 354 federally-funded  CILs, 55 State Independent Living Councils, and additional state and locally funded CILs work to maximize the leadership, empowerment, independence, and productivity of individuals with disabilities and to integrate these individuals into the mainstream of American society. Millions of people have benefited from the services provided by CILs every day.

Since the Berkeley CIL opened its doors just over fifty years ago, the independent living movement has been a cornerstone of so many disability rights milestones.

On Sunday, July 26, we celebrate the 25th anniversary of one of the greatest of these milestones, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For people with disabilities, the ADA extends critical civil rights protections and eliminates many barriers to inclusion and participation in the community. It should come as little surprise that many of the advocates leading the charge for the ADA were alumni of Centers for Independent Living. It is hard to imagine the passage of the ADA 25 years ago without the independent living movement behind it.

We are celebrating another anniversary this week as well. On July 22 last year, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) was signed into law. WIOA transferred the Independent Living programs to ACL, creating the Independent Living Administration. It also transferred the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR), and the Assistive Technology program to ACL.

ACL was created three years ago around one core idea—that older adults and people with disabilities should be able to live independently and participate fully in their communities. Together, the disability and aging communities have a larger voice, more influence, and ultimately are more successful advocates.

The Independent Living Administration and its programs bring a wealth of knowledge and resources to ACL and provide unique opportunities for greater collaboration and a more streamlined delivery of services. And by joining ACL, the Independent Living Administration will have new opportunities to work with the aging and DD networks.

We are excited about the benefits of the transition that lie ahead. For example, we will be able to more closely collaborate with ACL’s network of No Wrong Door systems, State Councils on Developmental Disabilities, Protection and Advocacy systems, and University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities. We will be able to have policy discussions that reach across both our aging and disability networks to find common ground.

It is clear that the simple idea that led Ed Roberts and other disability activists to open a small CIL in Berkeley has transformed the lives of people with disabilities across nation.

Now that the Independent Living Administration is a part of the ACL family, we are in an even stronger position to advance our common vision of dignity, inclusion, self-determination, and equal opportunity for all.

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Last modified on 01/11/2017

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