History of the Independent Living Movement
Ed Roberts is considered to be the “father of independent living.” Ed became disabled at the age of fourteen as a result of polio. After a period of denial in which he almost starved himself to death, Ed returned to school and received his high school diploma. He then wanted to go to college. The California Department of Rehabilitation initially rejected Ed’s application for financial assistance because it was decided that he was “too disabled to work.” He went public with his fight and within one week of doing so, was approved for financial aid by the state. Fifteen years after Ed’s initial rejection by the State of California as an individual, who was “too” disabled, he became head of the California Department of Rehabilitation–the agency that had once written him off.
After Ed earned his associate’s degree at the College of San Mateo, he applied for admission to the University of California at Berkeley. After initial resistance on the part of the university, Ed was accepted. The university let him use the campus hospital as his dormitory because there was no accessible student housing (none of the residential buildings could support the weight of Ed’s 800-lb. iron lung). He received attendant services through a consumer directed state program that allowed Ed to hire, train and fire his own staff.
By 1971, off-campus consumers were a sizable proportion of those seeking services. The realization that nothing existed outside of the university walls prompted Roberts and his associates to establish a Center for Independent Living (CIL) for the community at large. The particulars were hammered out for more than a year. The group was officially formed in 1972. A roach-infested apartment was found, and the group scrambled for funding until July 1972 when the Rehabilitation Administration produced a grant for $50,000, enough to tide them over while other funds were secured.
It didn’t take long for word of CIL’s solutions to spread beyond Berkeley. By the mid-1970s, Independent Living Centers (ILCs) had sprung up throughout California and in cities including Houston, Boston, New York, and Chicago. Finally, the motto of the sixties, “Power to the People,” was beginning to apply to those who, according to most, were the epitome of physical, financial, and political powerlessness.
In 1983, Ed co-founded the World Institute on Disability (WID), an advocacy and research center promoting the rights of people with disabilities around the world. Ed Roberts died unexpectedly on March 14, 1995.
More details and specifics regarding the evolution of the Independent Living Movement can be found at this link: