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Disability Culture

Independent Living…

… is a way of life that includes values, attitudes and behaviors.

… embraces a philosophy that the person, regardless of their disability, has the potential to exercise individual self-determination.

… is having the right and the opportunity to pursue a course of action. And, it is having the freedom to fail – and to learn from one’s failures, just as nondisabled people do.

… “means that we demand the same choices and control in our every-day lives that non-disabled brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends take for granted. We want to grow up in our families, go to the neighborhood school, use the same bus as our neighbors, work in jobs that are in line with our education and abilities, start families of our own. Just as everybody else, we need to be in charge of our lives, think and speak for ourselves.” (A. Ratzka,

Independence Empower Center embraces “Disability culture”

This term is used by people with disabilities to describe not only our growing sense of a shared history of social oppression, but also our strategies for coping and thriving, our emerging art and humor, our sense of community, and an almost defiant celebration of our differences. (adapted from C. Gill)

Ten Principles of Independent Living

  • Civil Rights – equal rights and opportunities for all; no segregation by disability type or stereotype.
  • Consumerism – a person (”consumer” or “customer”) using or buying a service or product decides what is best for him/herself.
  • De-institutionalization – no person should be institutionalized (formally by a building, program, or family) on the basis of a disability.
  • De-medicalization – individuals with disabilities are not “sick”, as prescribed by the assumptions of the medical model and do not require help from certified medical professionals for daily living.
  • Self-help – people learn and grow from discussing their needs, concerns, and issues with people who have had similar experiences; “professionals” are not the source of help provided.
  • Advocacy – systemic, systematic, long-term, and community-wide change activities are needed to ensure that peole with disabilities benefit from all that society has to offer.
  • Barrier-removal – in order for civil rights, consumerism, de-institutionalization, de-medicalization, and self-help to occur, architectural, communication and attitudinal barriers must be removed.
  • Consumer control – the organizations best suited to support and assist individuals with disabilities are governed, managed, staffed and operated by individuals with disabilities.
  • Peer role models – leadership for independent living and disability rights is vested in individuals with disabilities (not parents, service providers or other representatives).
  • Cross-disability – activities designed to achieve the first five principles must be cross-disability in approach, meaning that the work to be done must be carried out by people with different types of disabilities for the benefit of all persons with disabilities.

(Courtesy of the Statewide Independent Living Council of Illinois)