A Brief History of Independent Living

A Brief History of Independent Living

June 13, 2018 12:00 pm Published by

Civil Rights March on Washington D.C., with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

At ILCNSCA, we advocate for the rights of individuals with disabilities to live independently. We strive to help our clients create a lifestyle that’s different than that of someone living in a nursing home or other similar residential community. But what is independent living? Sure, we know that it means being able to live and thrive in one’s own community while still having complete access to the support and services needed. When you look at the history of independent living, you can see from where it stemmed. Where did the idea or need recognition come from? How did we get to where we are today? Let’s take a look:

The idea of independent living (IL) came about in the 1950s and ‘60s as a subset of the Civil Rights Movement. Both of these share some commonalities, such as awareness of bigotry and discrimination against people who were not white and who were non-disabled. This lead to the creation of an environment of tolerance and, eventually, acceptance of these people. Bigotry and discrimination applied to nearly all aspects of life, but they were most prominent in school, work, transportation, and housing.

There are five main movements to which IL can attribute its overwhelming success: 

The Deinstitutionalization Movement  

This Movement sought to take individuals with primarily developmental disabilities out of nursing homes and put them back in their home communities. Canadian sociologist, Wolf Wolfensberger, argued that if these people had any hope of behaving and acting “normally”, it would probably occur in their home environment wherein they feel most comfortable. Not locked up in some institution.

The Civil Rights Movement  

In this Movement, the African American population gain a number of civil rights over the years. Individuals with disabilities were not immediately included as a party on the receiving end of the Movement, but that all changed with Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat in the front of the bus to a white passenger. Individuals with disabilities quickly saw the challenge they faced daily with even being able to board a bus or other transportation system.

The Self-Help Movement  

This revolutionary Movement began with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in the 1950s and, soon after, a multitude of self-help books were published to help people get their lives back on track. This Movement also saw the advent of peer support. The belief behind this is that individuals with disabilities of a similar nature are better able to empathize and help out each other than individuals with different disabilities or who have no disability at all. At ILCNSCA, we require that at least 50% of the Board of Directors (BoD) and staff, as well as the Executive Director, be individuals with disabilities.

The Demedicalization Movement 

There was a trending decline in emphasis for treating individuals with disabilities solely with medicine and, instead accompanying reasonable and necessary medical treatment with holistic treatments. This empowers individuals with disabilities to recognize their own needs and be responsible for seeking the best treatments for said needs.


Nowadays, companies offers choice, convenience, and options for the products available to consumers. This means that consumers are no longer presented with one option for a product or service. Now, there are seemingly innumerable products and services available to anyone. This transitions seamlessly to apply to the disability community in that they, too, have choice, convenience, and options when it comes to the services provided to them.

At ILCNSCA, we advocate for independent living for all, regardless of income, disability, severity or level of the disability, and other factors. Contact ILCNSCA by phone at 978-741-0077, or visit our website at https://ilcnsca.org/.

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This post was written by Sperling

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