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Independent Living Philosophy and History

Independent Living emphasizes the empowerment of individuals with disabilities to take control of their lives to the maximum extent possible. The person isn’t a patient, but a consumer that controls the services that are consumed. The problem isn’t with the individual, but the environmental barriers to independent living. The solution is to remove barriers through advocacy and self-help. This concept has slowly gained strength since the 1960’s. This concept also rejects the medical and rehabilitation models, which have been common since World War II. Many people contributed to this movement. A few of them are highlighted below.

Ed Roberts

Ed Roberts is known as the father of independent living. He was a polio survivor. His vocational rehabilitation counselor found that he had no vocational potential. The University of California Berkley refused to admit him because he was too disabled. He sued California Vocational Rehabilitation. He eventually attended Berkley in 1962. He pressed the university for what he needed to succeed such as wheelchair repair, ramps, accessible transportation, and accessible housing. Other people with significant disabilities joined him and assisted other students with disability-related issues, and they became known as the Rolling Quads. Ed Roberts started the Disabled Students Program, and John Hessler was the director. People that were not students were coming to them with needs. Ed Roberts founded the first Center for Independent Living in 1972 with a $1 million grant, which has become a model for other Centers for Independent Living.

Judy Heumann

Judy Heumann is another contributor in the Independent Living Movement. She was not allowed to become a teacher because although she passed the written and oral parts of the licensure exam, she could not pass the physical part due to her disability. They said that she would be a fire hazard. She filed a lawsuit and won. She later joined Ed Roberts at the Center for Independent Living in California in 1973.

Justin Dart

Justin Dart was another polio survivor. He graduated from the University of Houston with degrees in history and education, but the University refused to give him a teaching certificate due to his disability. At his own expense, he gathered data from across the nation to document discrimination of people with disabilities. This helped pass the Americans with Disabilities Act. He assisted with founding “Justice for All,” a listserv that gets information to people with disabilities in a timely manner. He also assisted with founding American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), a cross-disability organization that empowers people with disabilities politically and economically.