Highlighting the Benefits of Independent Living for People with Disabilities

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed by Congress in 1990 prohibits discrimination of people with disabilities in areas including employment, health care, transportation, public communications, and housing. In particular, the ADA emphasizes the ability of disabled individuals living independently instead of in a nursing home or institution. Independent living advocates say the current ADA legal framework should be more comprehensive to protect the rights of people with disabilities. Below is more information on this topic.

To learn more, check out the infographic below created by Boston University’s Master of Science in Health Communication program.

The Benefits of Independent Living for People with Disabilities

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The Benefits of Independent Living

Better quality of life

One of the leading benefits of living independently is better quality of life. In fact, studies spanning three decades have shown that people with disabilities lead healthier and happier lives after moving from institutions to smaller community environments. This is because such settings give them more freedom and enable them to be more in control of their lives.

Easier access to amenities

Living independently enables disabled individuals to access amenities such as shopping centers, public transportation, health facilities, and work areas. This is important because it means handicapped people can access services and facilities that they would have been unable to access while living in institutions.

Better health outcomes

People with disabilities living independently enjoy better mental and physical health, than those confined to institutional care. These individuals are happier, healthier, have more control over their lives and are better able to function independently.

ADA background

The fight to stop discrimination of people with disabilities started earnestly in 1940 when Paul Strachan founded the American Federation of the Physically Handicapped. It was the first cross-disability, national political organization. In 1958, the Toomey Pavilion polio rehabilitation center in Ohio appointed Gini Laurie editor of the Toomeyville Gazette. Laurie is considered the founder and “grandmother” of the independent living movement. A decade later, President Lyndon B. Johnson assented to the U.S. Architectural Barriers Act of 1968, which required federal buildings and facilities to be easily accessible by people living with disabilities. In 1970, Judith Heumann successfully sued the New York City Department of Education for employment discrimination and thereafter founded the advocacy group Disabled in Action. This was followed by the founding of the Center for Independent Living (CIL) in Berkeley, California in 1972. Six years later Title VII of the Rehabilitation Act mandated the provision of funds for independent living initiatives. This legal effort also led to the creation of a National Council on Disability under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Education. The U.S. Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, added people with disabilities to the list of groups protected by federal fair housing regulations. In particular, this Act requires new multiple-dwelling housing units to comply with certain minimum access standards. This is to ensure that disabled people can easily access them.

Recent Events Related To Independent Living

In 2015, the National Core Indicators (NCI) initiative found that decisions made by disabled people related to workplace, housing, and daily activities vary widely by type of residence. In addition, an organization called Independence First organized diverse events spanning the entire year to raise awareness and educate the public on issues that affect people with disabilities. These activities coincided with the ADA’s 25th anniversary celebration. At the same time, the AIM Independent Living Center rolled out its signature annual campaign called STRIDES for Independence Walk to enhance disability awareness. The annual National Council on Independent Living conference attracted a record attendance of more than 1,500 people. More than 1,100 conference participants attended 17 webinars and four training sessions that revolved around issues affecting people with disabilities.

The National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) is working tirelessly to ensure that the Disability Integration Act becomes law. The NCIL already has a raft of successes under its belt including preventing 20% cuts in Disability Insurance benefits, organizing ADA’s 25th anniversary celebration (the largest to date), and preventing the U.S. Senate from instituting cuts in appropriations for Independent Living.

Challenges Faced By Disabled People

Employment barriers

There are two main reasons why people with disabilities may not look for a job. First, although federal law forbids employers from discriminating against disabled individuals when it comes to hiring, some employers do not adhere to this law. What’s more, the disabled often lose government benefits when they join the U.S. workforce, find other streams of income, or inherit funds dissuading them from seeking gainful employment.

The U.S. unemployment rate for people with disabilities stood at 10.8% in January 2016, compared to the overall U.S. unemployment rate of 4.9% during the same time period.

Since 1945, October has been declared the National Disability Employment Awareness month, to help give visibility to these and other related challenges.

Barriers to independent living

The disability benefits system in the U.S. tends to steer people with disabilities into long-term care facilities, even though institutionalized care is generally more expensive than providing support to disabled individuals in their communities. Many residential communities lack accessible infrastructures such as ramps, curb cuts, and sufficient doorway clearances that ease the movement of people with disabilities.

The Campaign for Education organization is focused on raising awareness of the importance of inclusive education for children with disabilities.

The role of assistive technology

Robotic and mobile devices enable elderly people to live independently and remain active for longer. Europe is leading this charge with a project called ENRICHME that integrates smartphones in robots to help people with mild impairments lead independent lifestyles. This project has already spawned several demonstrations, seminars, conferences, and workshops.

In 2015, another project called RADIO began with the aim of developing an Ambient Assisted Living Solution that integrates home automation and robotic technologies to enable the elderly to live independently. The RADIO project has also organized conferences, workshops, and demos related to its technology across the EU.

Conclusion

People with disabilities can lead largely independent lives with little or no help. In cases where help is needed, assistive technology that incorporates robotics and home automation would come in handy. Some of the main benefits of independent living include better quality of life, easy access to amenities, and better health outcomes.