What is independent living? Independent living is participating in day-to-day life, living where you choose and making decisions that lead to self-determination.
Most Americans take for granted opportunities they have regarding living arrangements, employment situations, means of transportation, social and recreational activities, and other aspects of everyday life.
For many Americans with disabilities, however, barriers in their communities take away or severely limit their choices. These barriers may be obvious, such as lack of ramped entrances for people who use wheelchairs, lack of interpreters or captioning for people with hearing impairments, or lack of Braille or taped copies of printed materials for people who have visual impairments.
Other barriers-frequently less obvious-can be even more limiting to efforts on the part of people with disabilities to live independently, and they are caused by people's misunderstandings and prejudices about disability. These barriers result in low expectations about things people with disabilities can achieve.
People with disabilities not only have to deal with the effects of their disabling conditions, but they also have to deal with both physical and attitudinal barriers. Otherwise, they are likely to be limited to a life of dependency and low personal satisfaction. This need not occur.
Millions of people all over America who experience disabilities have established lives of independence. They fulfill many different roles in their communities, from employers and employees to marriage partners, parents, students, athletes, politicians, taxpayers-the list is unlimited. In most cases, the barriers facing these people haven't been removed, but these individuals have been successful in overcoming or dealing with them.
Again, what is independent living? Essentially, it is living just like everyone else-having opportunities to make decisions that affect one's life, being able to pursue activities of one's own choosing, and being limited only in the same ways that one's non-disabled neighbors are.
Independent living should not merely be defined in terms of living on one's own, being employed in a job fitting one's capabilities and interests, or having an active social life. Independent living has to do with self-determination. It 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 non-disabled people do.