Congress authorized the Independent Living Program in 1978. It was in response to concerns that many individuals with severe disabilities who might not be ready to engage in vocational rehabilitation services, leading to employment, could benefit from other services to support their efforts to become or remain independent in local communities. This gave people options instead of being limited to institutional living which is often accompanied by loss of individual dignity and independence, as well as high fiscal costs. The program initially authorized funding for a limited number of grants to establish Centers for Independent Living and to provide independent living services to individuals.
Independent Living services assist persons with disabilities in their efforts to obtain independence and control over the decisions and directions for their own lives. The goals of such services are to maximize leadership, empowerment, independence and productivity of individuals with disabilities and their integration and inclusion into the mainstream of American society. The Rehabilitation Act articulates a philosophy of independent living that encompasses consumer control, peer support, self-help, self-determination, equal access, and individual and systems advocacy.
Independent living services may be provided to any person with a severe disability, defined as "an individual with a severe physical or mental impairment whose ability to function independently in the family or community or whose ability to obtain, maintain, or advance in employment is substantially limited and for whom the delivery of independent living services will improve the ability to function, continue functioning, or move towards functioning independently in the family or community or to continue in employment, respectively." [Section 7(15)(B) of the Rehabilitation Act]. A center for independent living can not discriminate on the basis on age, sex, creed, political affiliation, national origin, religious belief, or disability in determining eligibility for services.
The Rehabilitation Act authorizes the provision of Independent Living services according to a State Plan for Independent Living (SPIL) that is developed by the Statewide Independent Living Council, working in partnership with the State Vocational Rehabilitation agency. The Act emphasizes the role of centers for independent living in delivering services to individuals with severe disabilities. A center works with an eligible individual to achieve that individual's self-identified goals through peer counseling, skills training, advocacy, information and referral, and other available independent living services.
The Rehabilitation Act describes a center for independent living as a consumer-controlled, community-based, cross-disability, nonresidential private nonprofit agency that is designed and operated within a local community by individuals with disabilities and provides an array of independent living services. Centers provide services and advocacy by and for persons with all types of disabilities in order to create opportunities for independence and assist individuals with all types of disabilities to achieve their maximum level of independent functioning within their families and communities.
Each Center for Independent Living provides at least four independent living core services for eligible individuals: advocacy, peer support, independent living skills development, and information and referral to assist individuals in obtaining needed services and to promote accessibility in local communities. Community advocacy services provided by centers can benefit many people with disabilities who live in a local area. Such advocacy may focus on problems with physical and programmatic accessibility in transportation, health and recreational facilities or other basic community services. Subject to its planning priorities and funding limitations, a center may also provide the following independent living services: counseling, housing modifications and assistance in finding accessible housing, rehabilitation technology, mobility training, interpreters and readers, personal assistance including attendant care, needs surveys, education and training for participation in community activities, transportation, therapeutic treatment, social and recreation services, services to youth to promote self-esteem and self-empowerment, services for children, preventive services, and disability awareness in local communities.
The Statewide Independent Living Council is a key policy making body in each state. Its members are appointed by the Governor or other appropriate executive for each state. A majority of the Council's membership must be persons with disabilities who are knowledgeable about independent living. Each Council is responsible for working with the State Director for the Vocational Rehabilitation program to develop a State Plan for Independent Living that ensures appropriate planning, financial support and coordination of state independent living services. The State Plan also addresses priorities for developing and supporting a statewide network of Centers for independent living.
Independent Living services are funded through grants administered by United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Rehabilitation Services Administration. Each state with an approved State Plan for Independent Living (SPIL) receives funding for providing independent living services according to an allotment formula that recognizes state population. The formula requires the state or private sources to contribute ten percent matching funds to qualify for the Federal funding share. Funding for Independent Living Centers also reflects a state allotment formula based on state population. In allocating funds for centers, the Rehabilitation Services Administration must also consider each state's funding efforts, as well as the SPIL priorities in the development of new centers in under-served areas.
Accountability for Federal funds used to develop and operate independent living centers is maintained through the application of standards that emphasize the provision of independent living core services, achievement of service goals selected by individual consumers, and delivery of services to a cross-disability population. With average yearly costs of institutional care ranging from $35,000 to $110,000 annually, independent living services are a good return on investment because they enable people with severe disabilities to live in local communities at less cost.
In Federal Fiscal Year 1999: