"Power concedes nothing without a demand."
– Frederick Douglas
The Independent Living Movement 1970 -
WHAT IS INDEPENDENT LIVING?
The concept of independent living is opposite that of the institutions, and a movement away from dependency on parents and professionals. Essentially, independent living means the opportunity to make decisions that affect one's life, being able to pursue activities of one's own choosing. Independent living does not necessarily mean living alone. Rather, it has to do with self-determination: making choices, being allowed to fail, and having access to appropriate services.
Unfortunately, barriers exist for most persons with disabilities: barriers to employment, public transportation, social and recreational activities, and to many other aspects of everyday life. Some barriers are obvious, like an un-ramped entrance to a building, the lack of interpreters or captioning for persons with a hearing loss, or the lack of brailled or recorded copies of printed materials for persons who are blind. Other barriers are less obvious and frequently more damaging: commonly-held stereotypes that categorize persons with disabilities as objects of pity or scorn, resulting in low expectations of what people with disabilities can achieve.
The medical model of disability, which emerged in the 18th century, led professionals to perceive and treat people with disabilities as pitiful and child-like. Disability was then viewed as a medical issue that required the services of trained professionals, rather than the result of divine intervention.
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.