The Impor-tance of Indepen-dence

Independence is happiness.” ~ Susan B. Anthony





The Independent Living (IL) movement began in the late 1960s and early 1970s when society was in the midst of a growing civil rights movement. Ed Roberts, one of the founders of the IL movement, was denied admission to the University of California at Berkeley because of his disability. He challenged that decision and won, but was forced to live in a medical facility on campus .

Fighting against the restrictions and the perception of being sick, Ed worked with other students to organize practical supports, such as accessible housing and personal assistant services. This allowed them to live on their own. Hearing of their success, many people contacted them for information and support. In 1972, the first Center for Independent Living (CIL) was formed in Berkeley.


A CIL is a non-residential, not-for-profit, community-based agency that provides the core services of Independent Living. A CIL is more than just an organization. It embodies a movement with a philosophy rooted in principles similar to the civil rights and women’s movements. The Independent Living Movement developed in response to systems that were inaccessible and excluded people with disabilities.


The philosophy of Independent Living holds to principles that contrast the IL model with the traditional rehabilitation model. In the IL model, the society with barriers and negative attitudes toward disability is the problem and in need of change, rather than the individual with a disability.

The IL movement has fostered a particular definition of independence: “Independence is the ability to control one’s own life by making responsible choices from acceptable options.” To ensure “acceptable options” exist and prevent inappropriate institutionalization, CILs offer a variety of services, called the five core services: advocacy, independent living, information and referral, peer consultation and transition.

What Is Supported Living?

A person with disability gets the support they need to live in their own home, independently. If the person’s needs change the support they get can also be changed. The most important thing is that the support matches the person’s needs. This means the supports are designed for the person…they fit the person, the person does not have to fit the supports. This helps the person to live in their community.

How supported living works has been described like this:
Supported living is an approach to housing and support for people with disability based on the fundamental belief that every person has a right to lead their own life, to determine where, how, with whom they live and who provides them with support.

Common elements of supported living include:

  • Separation of housing and support
  • Support is provided by a combination of informal (non-paid) and paid support with intentional strategies used to develop informal support
  • Paid support is individualised, flexible and under the control of the person with disability

Where a Community Based Service Provider is involved, it stands beside the person with disability and their family to develop and implement the lifestyle the person wants.

“I think the [person] who is able to earn [his]her own living and pay [his]her own way should be as happy as anybody on earth. The sense of independence and security is very sweet.”           ~Susan B. Anthony




What Is Supported Employment?

Supported Employment (SE) is a program established by the federal government in the 1980’s that enables individuals with severe disabilities to become employed. It is a complex system that blends resources from a variety of sources. The following information is a general description of SE.

It is a model of employment that provides people with severe disabilities the appropriate, ongoing support that is necessary for success in a competitive work environment. Most individuals in a SE program receive services from a Community Based Service Provider (CBSP). Generally CBSPs provide vocational assessment, locate or develop jobs, and provide job skills training. Most CBSPs have job coaches who work at the job site and help the client learn job tasks, identify job modifications including assistive technology, and work with the employer to solve behavioral or social problems.

Who Is Supported Employment Designed to Help?

It is for individuals with severe disabilities who need lifelong, ongoing support. An individual with vision loss who has additional, severe disabilities would therefore be eligible for SE. Most individuals with vision loss only need access to information and not direct support and therefore are not candidates for SE.

When Is Supported Employment Appropriate?

SE can begin as part of a Vocational Rehabilitation program once an individual has left the public school system. Vocational Rehabilitation has a responsibility to provide SE services when appropriate. School systems play a role as they are mandated to formally plan for the transition from school into adult services. Schools should also take an active role in providing career education, skills training, and job sampling as part of their services.

How Does Supported Employment Happen?

SE begins with the assembling of a team of individuals who will explore options and create a plan for supported employment. The planning team should include the individual who is disabled, their family, school personnel, adult service providers, and members of the community who may be able to provide information and assistance. Vocational Rehabilitation can begin the SE plan and will fund services for a designated length of time, usually one year. SE requires that services be provided without disruption and the plan must designate the source of extended support service funds. State agencies that typically provide such funding are Developmental Disability, Mental Retardation, Mental Health, or similar agencies. When state agencies are not available to fund SE extended services solutions have been found by creative use of other programs such as Supplemental Security Income.

During the planning process a Community Based Service Provider must be located to provide the actual SE services. Typically the CBSP begins by providing intensive services in vocational assessment, job location, and job placement but might also include job skill training, assistive technology, necessary job modifications, and on-going support. Once a person has been placed on a job his/her need for ongoing support may diminish over time. The goal is for the employer to eventually provide the “natural” supports available from co-workers.

Why Is There Supported Employment?

SE is the end point of the movement to retain individuals with severe disabilities within the communities in which they live. Previously these same people might have spent their lives in segregated settings such as institutions. SE is a means by which people can be successful in employment that fits their talents, interests, and abilities.

Work is about more than making a living, as vital as that is. It’s fundamental to human dignity, to our sense of self-worth as useful, independent, free people.” ~William J. Clinton