Michigan’s Centers for Independent Living and the Independent Living Movement
Historically, persons with disabilities were considered to be cases of health, rehabilitation, or charity. Persons with disabilities were viewed as deficient and incapable of making their own decisions or choosing their own direction in life. Expectations of persons with disabilities were low with respect to education, employment, independence, and participation in society. As a result, many persons with disabilities lived in isolation or institutional settings. This old paradigm of disability began to shift in the late 1960’s with the birth of the Independent Living Movement and the promotion of the Independent Living Philosophy.
The current history of the independent living movement is related to the struggle for Black civil rights and other movements of the late 1960s and 1970s. Much of this work involved the formation of community-based groups of people with different types of disabilities who worked together to identify barriers and gaps in service delivery. To remove barriers, action plans were developed to educate the community and influence decision-makers at all levels to amend regulations and pass laws that remove barriers. Parents also began to organize, looking for better education and acceptance of their children with disabilities.
In 1972, the first Center for Independent Living was founded in Berkeley, California, by Ed Roberts and the Rolling Quads. Ed Roberts started his studies at the University of California in 1962 at Berkeley. As there was no accommodation for students with disabilities at the time, students with disabilities lived in the infirmary of the Student Health Service, which is part of the Cowell Hospital. Inspired by political activism in the 1960s, these students started to perceive themselves not as patients but as an oppressed minority.
While living in the infirmary, a sense of community developed based on the barriers and discrimination that they all faced. They started calling themselves the Rolling Quads. As the Rolling Quads, they advocated for the University to install ramps, provide transportation and accessible housing. They began to provide help to other students on disability issues. Ed Roberts launched the first independent living center, the Berkeley Center, in 1972. The Center was a community-based non-profit organization run by people with disabilities for people with disabilities of all types.
In the early seventies, other Centers for Independent Living started organizing. Other disability rights groups also began to band together. The voices of people with disabilities grew louder and stronger. Federal legislation was introduced to ensure that people with disabilities were not excluded from programs or activities that receive federal funding. In 1973, the act was passed, but was not implemented. Led by disability activist, Judy Heumann, persons with disabilities organized sit-ins at federal offices across the country. After 28 days of extreme hardship occupying a federal office, 150 people with disabilities were successful in getting the regulations to be implemented.
In 1978, federal funding was appropriated for Centers for Independent Living in 10 states. Currently, there are over 400 Centers across the country to champion the Independent Living Movement so that people with disabilities have equal opportunity and full participation in society.