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History in the Making - The Independent Living Movement

Photo of Independent Living Rally in the 1960s

The founding of the Lehigh Valley Center for Independent Living (LVCIL), and Centers for Independent Living throughout the nation, is linked to the civil rights movement of the 1960's. During this time, many individuals with disabilities were institutionalized and not afforded the same opportunities as their counterparts without disabilities. Recognizing this injustice, individuals with all types of disabilities throughout the nation banded together to form cross-disability advocacy groups. These groups staged protests and held rallies arguing for increased accessibility and fair treatment of people with disabilities. This movement later became known as the Independent Living Movement.

The success of the Independent Living Movement, helped to push forward important legislation including the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. These efforts also helped to found the first Center for Independent Living in Berkley, California in 1972. From that point forward, Centers for Independent Living were founded in states across the nation. Currently, there are more than 400 Centers serving millions of Americans with disabilities each and every day.

Photo of Ed Roberts

Edward Verne Roberts (January 23, 1939 – March 14, 1995) was an American activist. He was the first student with severe disabilities to attend the University of California, Berkeley. He was a pioneering leader of the disability rights movement and often called the father of the Independent Living movement. Roberts contracted polio at the age of fourteen in 1953, two years before the Salk vaccine ended the epidemic. He spent eighteen months in hospitals, and returned home paralyzed from the neck down except for two fingers on one hand and several toes. He slept in an iron lung at night and often rested there during the day. When out of the lung he survived by "frog breathing," a technique for swallowing air using facial and neck muscles.

He attended school by telephone hook-up until his mother Zona insisted that he go to school once a week for a few hours. At school he faced his deep fear of being stared at and transformed his sense of personal identity. He gave up thinking of himself as a "helpless cripple," and decided to think of himself as a "star." He credited his mother with teaching him by example how to fight for what he needed. (link to source and more information about Ed Roberts:

Every Center for Independent Living provides four core services: Information and Referral, Peer Support, Advocacy, and Independent Living Skills. These services ensure that people with disabilities are provided with the services and support they need to live independently and access their community. Each Center also provides its own specialized services and programs for its consumers. In addition, every Center is governed, managed, and staffed at all times by a majority of persons with disabilities. This is called Consumer Control and it ensures that individuals with disabilities have a governing stake and role in the implementation of services and development of programs.

To find more information about Centers for Independent Living, please visit the National Council on Independent Living's website at

To find a Center near you, click here.

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