“Independent Living,” (IL) as it is used in IL philosophy and in the IL movement, can be a confusing term to get used to. After all, many of us are accustomed to the word “independent” meaning alone or free from influence. This isn’t always the case. There was a quote that I really liked from Judy Heumann: “Independent Living is not doing things by yourself, it is being in control of how things are done.” This pretty cleanly sums up how to define IL. Very often we are told what we need to do as opposed to being given options and choosing what works best for us. Sometimes the option that works best is being in a supportive environment with community supports to help us along. Whether it’s requiring an attendant to help get dressed or drive us, getting necessary assistive technology or choosing the advice of a peer rather than a medical professional, we need to be in control of the way things are done in our lives.
At a Center for Independent Living (CIL) we work with the consumer not for the consumer. We want to make sure that the people who choose to work with us can choose the services they want and how to approach them. The atmosphere of peer support and empowerment we try to promote can be starkly different than what many are used to, especially the consumers who are transitioning back into the community from a nursing home or institution or those that have spent a majority of their life secluded from their community. Getting in there and making decisions that impact the quality of your life, being in control, choosing how things are done: this is all part of Independent Living.
The wonderful thing about IL and CILs is that a major aspect is peer support. I’ve written about how important the support of a peer can be, but can’t emphasize enough how powerful and important it is. When we can collaborate with other people who have had similar experiences successful strategies can be formulated. Why “reinvent the wheel” when we can work with someone who may have some insight into how the system works. Independently and together we can get things done and be in control of our lives.