The recognition and advocacy of the disability community was the driving force behind the inception of the Centers for Independent Living (CILs) back in 1972 in Berkley, California. Today, this organization has grown to over 400 Centers nationwide that service millions of Americans with disabilities. Their mission of the advancement of independent living and the rights of people with disabilities with the vision of a world in which they are valued equally and participate fully makes them an invaluable resource.
Amy Beck, the Executive Director at the Lehigh Valley Center for Independent Living, has 20 years of experience being a part of this organization and community. Her location is one of eighteen Centers in Pennsylvania and has become a staple to the community in Lehigh Valley. “There is a common thread throughout all of our 400 locations. We are all charged to provide five core services that are basic human services that are very important to people with disabilities.”
Advocacy: Advocacy on an individual basis or as a collective advocacy. In terms of the individual, they are taught to be self-advocates or partner with their local Center to provide information they need to overcome an obstacle. They may help their local consumers work for a local improvement, such as everyone writing letters to increase accessible playground equipment. On a collective level, they might be working together to make sure people with disabilities are well represented in emergency management planning or advocating for changes in Home and Community Based Services.
Information and Referral: CILs work with individuals, service providers, agencies, and county and state offices to provide information and resources consumers are searching for. CILs provide this independently as one of their five core services, but often take inquiries from outside government agencies and service providers. These calls could be anything including, how to find flashing smoke detectors, how to file a complaint, where can I find funding for a ramp, how do I find affordable housing, or where are local food banks. Their staff are practically encyclopedias of disability-related information!
Peer Support/Counseling: The majority of the staff, Board of Directors, and volunteers throughout all Centers are people with disabilities. This helps build a network of support and social relationships to get through life experiences.
Independent Living Skills: This service supports the learning of essential skills to live independently. Skills like housing rights and responsibilities, home maintenance, general cleanliness, meal preparation, health and safety, and personal finance.
Transition: Whether someone is shifting into adulthood or transferring out of an institution or nursing homes a Center for Independent Living assists with transitioning.
Amy made one thing clear regarding their offerings; “One important part of all these services we provide is that consumers are in control of their own services. They are making their own decisions. We want consumers to be self-empowered.”
If you are interested in using this community resource or know someone who can, you can reach out to the Lehigh Valley Center for Independent Living through their website (www.lvcil.org/)or if you are looking for your local Center you can look at the national website (https://ncil.org/). Join us on July 9, 2020 to hear more about how a Center for Independent Living can help you.
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