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Independence Empowerment Center is associated with a national network of almost 500 Centers for Independent Living in the United States with roots in civil rights models of the 1960s. These Centers are advocacy-based organizations governed and operated by persons with disabilities for persons with disabilities.

In 1972, the first Center for Independent Living was founded by disability activists, led by Ed Roberts, in Berkeley, California. These Centers were created to offer peer support and role modeling. The creation of the Center started a national movement. In 1978 the federal Rehabilitation Act was amended to include Title VII which for the first time provided federal funding for the development of a national network. Why did the changes occur and what was their genius? The answer was relatively simple; it was the birth of a new model: the medical model vs. the community model; the medical model sees people with disabilities as the problem and the Independent Living model sees people with disabilities as the solution. The medical model focuses on the physical or mental problem that needs to be “fixed” where the community living model focuses on the individual with a disability as the solution and not the problem. Through peer support, advocacy, skills training and information and referral, Independent Living Centers across the country now provide services to hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities each year.

The philosophy of the Independent Living Movement evolved from the Community Rights Model which espouses the belief that if an individual needs supports to live in the community then these supports should be provided. In 1999 The Olmstead Decision by the Supreme Court supported this aspect of the philosophy based on the Americans with Disabilities Act. Independent Living also believes in the right to risk taking and the right to fail as part of the learning process. Through peer support people learn from each other how to problem solve and live more independently.