The Philosophy of Independent Living

As an effect ofthe civil rights movements in the ’60s also disabled people started initiatives aiming a better enforcement of their rights. At that time four severely disabled young men wanted to complete their studies in the Berkeley University in the USA. They could not get suitable accommodations in the student hostel, only in the hospital. One of them, Edward Roberts who lived on a respirator, decided to start fighting to gether with the others for their right to live – with personal assistance – like any other able-bodied students. In the meantime they realized that there were many ten thousands in the US to suffer from the same type of discrimination as they did, under their families’ or the institution’s paternal care. In this way a civil rights movement started in order to fight against the obstac1es on physical and mentallevel and many other seriously disabled people joined their activities. This was called Independent Living Movement, which spread throughout North America, Europe and the whole World.

The leaders created Independent Living Centers where they offered (and offer even today) personal assistance (financed by the state), peer counseling and peer support, and a platform for political activities. They launched manifestations to c1aim equal rights for the disabled: they blockaded public buildings and transport lines; they organised discussions, forums with municipalleaders, politicians and various organizations, they were fighting for integrated education and employment with equal sallary. The 20 years offighting resulted in passing the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1993, which states that people with disabilities are fully entitled citizens and no discrimination against them is lawful. Today more than 300 Independent Living Centers are existing in the US.

What is the essence of the Independent Living Movement? The right to make. own decisions. That people with serious disability take the control of their lifes in their hands taking the responsibility of their decisions. We know best what we need, what is the best for us. Earlier always experts or family members decided instead of us. However, we are perfectly able to live independently, in selfdetermination, which means that we, disabled people set the priorities and organise our life, we decide when, where and what kinds of personal assistance and from whom we obtain. In this way we will be less dependent and defenceless.

What is the task ofthe society? To ensure by legislation the equal participation in all fields of life. The right to live somewhere, to healthcare, to technical aids, to personal assistance, to mobility, to communication, to obtain information, to education and training, to employment, to political activities, to culture, etc. must be ensured.

Independent or self-determining living as expression must be made clear, because many people mix it up with self-support, which can be the aim of rehabilitation. Disabled people, who live self-determiningly, tum away from the traditional approach of rehabilitation, which tries to fit the disabled to an environment made by and for those without any handicap. They say, the environment and public services should be adapted to the needs ofthe disabled, they should be accessible for all citizens, which is less an issue offinances, but more of paying attention.

What is independent living? Disabled people’s right for self-determination, philosophy, approach and implementation in everyday-life, as well as possibility to an equal and full life. Disabled people however should be empowered, if they once have the will, they can do for it.

Therefore the Independent and Self-determined Living is the philosophy of the most seriously disabled persons, who need personal assistance in their everyday-life.

The consumer approach and the possibility of choice must be enforced: people with disabilities should get correct and full information so that they could make a choice and they should be put in a position to be able to pay for the choosen service. The state’s responsibility is to create the conditions for all those.