An Important Resource: Centers for Independent Living

by Brian Peters; Independence First; Milwaukee, WI

The Independent Living movement in the 1970’s led to the creation of the Centers for Independent Living (CILs). Inspired by the civil rights movement’s nonviolent civil disobedience, disability activists fought, and continue to fight, for the right to live independently in the community. Disability activists work to establish expectations that places will be accessible, and that programs and services will be available to people with disabilities. Disability advocates fought for the passage and implementation of laws such as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Fair Housing Amendments Act, Air Carrier Access Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, and many others.

Also known as Independent Living Centers, the CILs are nonprofit organizations that are run by people with disabilities, and provide services for people with disabilities. Many are federally funded, while others are funded by their states. They are required to have at least half of the board of directors be persons with disabilities, and at least half of the staff be persons with disabilities. This means that CILs are very grassroots because issues that affect people with disabilities also affect the staff of CILs.

Each CIL is required to perform four core services: advocacy, information & referral, independent living skills training, and peer support & mentoring. A fifth core service, transition, was added in 2014. This is really two core services; one part is to help youth with disabilities transition out of school life.  The other part is to help people with disabilities transition from institutions such as nursing homes into the community so they can live independently with the support and services they need. CILs also work with people with disabilities at risk of being put into institutions to make sure they stay in the community.

Many CILs also have other programs and services such as assistive technology resource centers, recreational programs, etc. The core services and many additional programs and services are free to people with disabilities. Others that some CILs may have, such as benefits counseling, accessibility assessments or work incentives programs, come from other funding sources and may require a referral process. There are 403 CILs in the United States and territories. Many CILs also have additional branch offices in their service areas. You can find your local CIL using this directory.