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Celebrating 35 Years of the Independent Living Movement… Onward!“Independent Living is not doing things by yourself. It’s being in control of how things are done."

Independent Living: for people with disabilities, these two words together are a powerful rallying cry for acknowledgement and recognition that have grown to represent — as The National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) sums it up – a Program, a Movement, and a Culture.
“Independent Living is not doing things by yourself,” Former US Department of State Special Advisor International Disability Rights Judy Heumann explained in 2012. “It’s being in control of how things are done.”
Heumann’s authority on the subject goes far beyond lofty titles. In 1977 she led the most successful of a series of nationwide protests that led to the release of regulations pursuant to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Close to 120 disability activists and protesters occupied San Francisco’s Health, Education and Welfare building for 25 days. It was historic not only because its goal was achieved, but also because it brought people of different disabilities together in support of legislation that affected the overall disability population, rather than only specific groups.
More than just a grass-roots effort for new rights and entitlements, the Independent Living movement has been and continues to be a civil rights movement to ensure that people with disabilities can fully participate in EVERY aspect of society, no matter where they call home.
The first Independent Living Center was established in Berkeley California in 1972. NCIL was founded a decade later to oversee growth to currently more than 400 centers nationwide — run by people with disabilities –that coordinate programs and training, and work with local and regional governments to improve infrastructure, lobby for legislation that promotes equal opportunities and prohibits discrimination, and facilitate the participation by people with disabilities in national debates on disability issues. Those issues often have significant impact on non-disabled Americans: national health insurance and regulation of managed care organizations, for example.
Founders of the Independent Living movement in the early 1970s were responding to a widespread medical model in which people with disabilities were treated paternalistically as dependent patients, instead of individuals capable of directing their own care. Decades of protest, outreach and coalition-building later: today’s physicians, therapists, nurses, rehabilitation counselors, and disability researchers are some of the movement’s most passionate supporters. It’s re-shaped the thinking of disability professionals and researchers. It’s inspired new service delivery models. It’s an ongoing battle to hold ground.
But while recognizing the challenges to hard-won victories on our shores, NCIL celebrates 35 years of progress at its Annual Conference on Independent Living in Washington DC this week by turning outward and taking the battle to an international stage with a Global IL summit as part of this year’s event, titled, REVOLUTION: A Global Independent Living Movement.
The conference literature notes that CILs are springing up across the Far East, Africa and South America. NCIL Executive Director Kelly Buckland’s call to arms to join forces with them frames the fight as a “push back against the rising tide of discrimination and bigotry that confronts people with disabilities every day….Independence may have sparked our fire, but it is interdependence that will keep it burning.”
Words to live by. And fight by.


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