Centers for Independent Living (CILs) are organizations run by and for people with disabilities. All CILs offer four core services as well as a host of other programming to assist people with disabilities. The work and services of a CIL are aimed at empowering people with disabilities and making sure that they have access to their communities and can better take control of, and make decisions in, their lives.
Ed Roberts started the first CIL in Berkeley, CA in 1972. One of the primary functions of the CIL was to be a place where people with disabilities could take control of their lives instead of being diagnosed and told what they needed to do. Peer support was one of the core services of that first CIL and remains a core service of other CILs across the country and the globe. By seeing a peer and not a “professional” a person with a disability can have a positive role model and can, therefore, begin to take more initiative and control in their lives. Peer counseling along with independent living skills training gives the individual the knowledge and skills to live as independently in their community as possible. The fact that these centers are run by people with disabilities makes the advice and input from the peer supporter more meaningful than that of a person without who would only seek to “fix” the individual.
Aside from peer counseling and IL skills training CILs offer Information and Referrals for services in the community that will benefit the consumer. These referrals can range widely from finding programs that offer case management and assistive technology to children to finding affordable housing to finding transportation. These referrals are meant to help keep the consumer in touch with their community and allow them to make choices for themselves. Part of being independent is making decisions for oneself and being allowed to face the consequences. The final core service offered at Centers for Independent Living is advocacy, both systemic and personal. All CILs have staff that are passionate about enacting change and working with (not for) consumers so that they can have a voice and help make changes that will positively benefit themselves or their community.
CILs are unique environments because of the fact that primarily people with disabilities staff them. A requirement of CILs, other than the four core services, is that 51% of the staff and the board of directors must be people with disabilities (this is a minimum percentage). Often, the percentage of people with disabilities running these centers is far above 51%. People with significant disabilities are often sought to fill the primary operating positions of these centers. Consumer control makes CIL both unique and powerful among the disability community.