Independence Day for Everyone

Across the US, communities will celebrate Independence Day with parades, picnics, and fireworks displays. Since we’re also celebrating the 25th anniversary of the ADA and the 50th anniversary of the Older Americans Act, we’d like to take moment to reflect on the independent living movement and how it has impacted the lives of people with disabilities here and abroad.

The independent living movement emerged from the confluence of the civil rights and social movements and the deinstitutionalization of people with disabilities in the 1960s. According to the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL):

Our first taste of emancipation came amidst massive civil rights movements nationally and abroad. Leaders of the disability community began to realize that our human rights and civil liberties would come only as we fought for them.

The first center for independent living (CIL) was established in Berkeley, CA, with new centers forming quickly in Massachusetts, Michigan, and Texas. These are consumer-run organizations, with staff and governing boards made up of individuals with disabilities. They operate on a philosophy that “emphases consumer control, the idea that people with disabilities are the best experts on their own needs, having crucial and valuable perspective to contribute and deserving of equal opportunity to decide how to live, work, and take part in their communities, particularly in reference to services that powerfully affect their day-to-day lives and access to independence.”

Independent living and disability rights activists fought hard-won battles to gain equal access in transportation, housing, employment, education, and health care. Their courageous efforts led to the development and passage of the ADA, as well as other state and federal laws ensuring equal access. The work is not finished: Independent living and disability rights activists around the world continue to fight for the right to fully participate in their communities and to make decisions about their own care. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, ratified by more than 150 countries, is still waiting to be ratified in the US.

More than 400 CILs operate across the US, working locally and nationally to support members of their community live fully and independently where they choose. To find a center near you, visit

For more on the independent living movement and its history, please check out these items from the NIDILRR community and elsewhere:

Please visit us at for more information and research on independent living, the disability rights movement, and much more!

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