Centers for Independent Living are community-based, cross-disability, non-profit organizations that are designed and operated by people with disabilities. CILs are unique in that they operate according to a strict philosophy of consumer control, wherein people with all types of disabilities directly govern and staff the organization.

From the NCIL website: When the process of deinstitutionalization began in the 1960’s, some people with significant disabilities were released from inevitable life sentences in nursing homes and other institutions, which created for the first time in history an opportunity, an imperative, for people with disabilities to live free and independent lives. From this, a community and a culture with history, values, and an objective were born.

Our first taste of emancipation came amidst massive civil rights movements nationally and abroad. Leaders of the disability community began to realize that our human rights and civil liberties would come only as we fought for them. With most state-run institutions closed, people with significant disabilities became more visible, and more audible, too. But society’s unwelcoming attitude did not change. The private medical industry quickly appropriated the responsibilities of formerly state-run institutions.

Centers for Independent Living were created to be run by and for people with disabilities, and offer support, advocacy, and information on empowerment in the attainment of independence from a peer viewpoint, a perspective that was hitherto excluded from participation in the discussion and execution of “services for the disabled.”

Independent Living activists carried out some of the most daring protests in American civil rights history, including the longest occupation of a Federal building in history, which led to the release of the regulations banning discrimination against people with disabilities in federally funded programs. As Independent Living philosophy took hold nationally and the Disability Rights Movement gained acceptance and political influence, a grassroots movement for a comprehensive disability rights law (the ADA) was implemented.

Today, Centers for Independent Living fight similar battles to ensure that the rights of people with disabilities are protected. Even with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, people with disabilities often find that advocacy and support from the disability community and the Disability Rights Movement is an essential element in enforcement of the civil rights law.

Many of the issues we fight for have strong opposition and powerful lobbyists in the for-profit sector. NCIL remains dedicated to the community values, objectives, and unity that we were founded on.

Ed Roberts – The Father of the Independent Living Movement

Ed Roberts

Ed Roberts was an international leader and educator in the independent living and disability rights movements. He fought throughout his life to enable all persons with disabilities to fully participate in society. Ed was a true pioneer: he was the first student with significant disabilities to attend UC Berkeley. He was a founder of UC’s Physically Disabled Students Program, which became the model for Berkeley’s Center for Independent Living (CIL) and over 400 other independent living centers across the country. He was one of the early directors of CIL. He was the first California State Director of Rehabilitation with a disability; he was awarded a MacArthur fellowship; and he was co-founder and President of the World Institute on Disability.