VI. The Independent Living Movement A. What Is Independent Living?
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Certain assumptions were also made about people with disabilities and the role of medical professionals – people with disabilities were patients who needed to be cured, and physicians were the experts and primary decision makers. This model fostered dependence upon professionals. For many individuals with disabilities, the message was clearly to overcome, rather than accept, a disability.


President Franklin Roosevelt exemplifies one who "overcame" his disability through what the sociologist Erving Goffman has called "heroic adjustment." Roosevelt's legs were paralyzed from polio, but the public never saw his disability. Out of 35,000 photographs of President Franklin Roosevelt at the Hyde Park Library, only two show him seated in his wheelchair.

To hide his leg braces, he painted them black and wore black socks. He also developed an elaborate method of getting around by having his assistants hold him in a way that made him appear to be walking. Reportedly, when the actor Orson Welles was dining at the White House, President Roosevelt said to him, "You and I are the two finest actors in America."

The two extremes represented by the medical model and the model of heroic adjustment, pitifulness or heroism, were challenged powerfully in the late 1960s and early 1970s. People with different types of physical disabilities began creating community groups to identify and address barriers, and take active roles in the decisions affecting their lives. Pioneers like Ed Roberts refused to accept a segregated life and demanded more control of his own life. This was the start of the Independent Living Movement. For the first time, persons with disabilities were the decision makers.