The “fundamental nature” of Independent Living is “a philosophy of consumer control, peer support, self-help, self-determination, equal access, and individual and system advocacy”. Consumer control means that the individuals with a disability assets control over his or her personal life choices, and in addition, has control over his or her independent living plan, making informed choices about content, goals and implementation.
The medical or rehabilitation paradigm defines disability as a defect in the individual. This way of looking at disability centers on a medical professional or a rehabilitation professional who intervenes in the person’s life and tells the person what they can and cannot accomplish or do with their lives. This inevitably leads to a social role for the person with a disability as a powerless patient who is dependent on the experts for direction and decisions. Most people in this situation either never gain control, or lose any control they did have. Expectations by professionals are generally low in terms of the person with a disability holding a job or living a constructive life.
The Independent Living or IL paradigm and philosophy are very different from this medical or rehabilitation model and call for a different way of perceiving and relating to people with disabilities. In the IL paradigm, disability is considered a natural part of the human experience. Independent living means controlling what you do with your life, and making your own decisions. The desired outcome is a person who controls his or her own life, has opportunities comparable to other citizens, participates in the community as they wish, and who has economic security.
People with disabilities work, go to school, get married, have children, buy houses and do all the things non-disabled people do. They have the same rights and freedoms that non-disabled have. People with disabilities have the right to make choices and change their mind. No person, family member, government official or agency, educator, employer or medical professional has the right to make decisions or choices for a person with a disability without their consent.
Until more of the general public and people with disabilities understand and embrace the paradigm shift from medical/professional/charity models to the independent living philosophy, there likely will be further vigorous attempts to weaken the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and to reject changes to Social Security and other disability-related laws that would free people with disabilities to make their own choices and control their own lives.
Most of us will experience a disability sometime in our lifetime. It is a natural part of life. If you don’t experience a disability, you know or will know a family member or friend or neighbor or coworker that experiences a disability of some type. The question I would ask you is, do you want someone else making your decisions for you, or do you want to make decisions for yourself. I think we all know that answer to that.
(image description: a quote that says, disability is a natural part of the human experience)