Centers for Independent Living are not-for-profit disability organizations that are governed and staffed mainly by people with disabilities. They are funded by the federal government, some state governments, and by foundation grants and individual contributions.
What CILs Don't Do ... What Centers don't do is also important. CILs do not run residences, group homes, assisted living facilities, special schools, or sheltered workshops. In general, they do not seek to create separate, specialized services for disabled people, but rather work to make existing services accessible and equally satisfying for all, including people with disabilities.
Because CILs are so grassroots and rooted in local communities, they can sometimes fail into the trap of wanting to be admired more than wanting to be effective advocates. It's usually possible to be a strong advocate and be well-liked, but it isn't easy. Being considered a respected colleague ... a "team player" by all the other bigwigs in a small community can be awfully tempting.
There is always a risk when you hire people for their life experience more than for their professional credentials. On the one hand, you often find untapped wells of talent, wisdom, and compassion. On the other hand, you may find you have to build up basic administration and collaboration skills, sometimes from scratch. As a result, CILs at times can be a bit shaggy or sloppy with what is broadly termed "professionalism."
Independent Living grew out of a genuine grassroots movement, but was first built mainly on the aspirations of relatively privileged, well-educated, middle-class disabled people. Although there is nothing in Independent Living that is incompatible with other people and goals, it sometimes feels relevant to people with lower incomes, people with cognitive and mental disabilities, and people from more diverse cultural backgrounds.
Although CILs aren't there specifically to provide opportunity for the disabled people who work at them, they do constitute a unique and varied career path for disabled people who want to devote themselves to serving the disability community. Plus, Centers are often proving grounds where disabled people with limited work experience can hone their skills and then move on to greater success in other fields of employment.
After two and a half years of disability blogging, I feel like it is finally okay for me to reflect more deeply on Independent Living and actually encourage disabled people and their families to find their nearest CIL and get involved. I am curious to hear feedback on readers' experience with Centers for Independent Living.
Meanwhile, check out these links for more information:
National Council on Independent Living
Directory of Centers for Independent Living
Ed Roberts: Free Wheeling