What are Independent Living Centers?
Independent Living Centers are not-for-profit organizations that operate under the Indiana Family Social Services Agency (FSSA) and the Division of Disabilities and Rehabilitation Services (DDRS). They are agencies that are consumer controlled, community-based, cross-disability and non-residential.
In the state of Indiana, there are currently ten Independent Living Centers. These Centers cover multiple counties in their regions. Approximately sixty-four of Indiana’s ninety-two counties are served by one of these Centers. The Independent Living Centers have specific criteria they must meet to qualify as a Center under federal guidelines. The current agencies operating under these guidelines are found here: https://www.in.gov/fssa/ddrs/files/Independent_Living_Centers_in_Indiana.pdf.
The Centers provide services to persons with disabilities regardless of age or type of disability. Independent Living Centers are federally mandated to promote a philosophy of independent living. This philosophy is driven by the consumer control of these programs and the peer support provided. Self-help, self-determination, and advocacy that is part of the Center’s philosophy is important so that persons with disabilities obtain a level of independence, productivity, and integration that provides full inclusion into the mainstream of American society (Title VII, 2003).
Services provided by each agency may differ depending on funding allocated. The Centers are governed by a board of directors, of which the majority are persons with disabilities. Staff and decision makers for the Centers also include persons with disabilities.
Although the Centers for Independent Living are funded through state and national programs, these funds provide only basic needs for the agencies. Many rural and small areas have only one full-time staff member and perhaps a small office within an entire region. Although there are coordinators assigned to each of the counties in those regions, many times these are only part-time positions. Urban areas may employ more staff as they have a larger population to serve, and may have access to more funding.
Much of the additional funding comes through grants. Grant money can come from various agencies. Some grant money that has supported Independent Living Centers comes through the Department of Education, the Governor’s Planning Council, Vocational Rehabilitation, Area Agencies on Aging, and other groups. Grants are usually for specific projects and may be for only a designated time period, or to accomplish a single goal. Sometimes these projects develop into new programming and funding is found to support the new program from other sources.
The national and state requirements for Independent Living Centers mandate four categories of services that must be offered to meet their criteria. Each of the centers will have these core services:
• Information and Referral: Provide current information on local, state, and federal disability issues and resources; refer persons with disabilities to other organizations for further assistance.
• Independent Living Skills Training: Promote training on kitchen skills, good nutrition, household management, self-care, interpersonal skills, managing personal finances, mobility/travel skills, household maintenance, personal growth, recreation, and exercising consumer rights. Personal care assist training is also promoted.
• Peer Counseling: Provide counseling by individuals with experience, knowledge, and skills who have similar disabilities. Strive to maximize leadership, empowerment, independence and productivity of individuals with similar disabilities.
• Advocacy: Promote a policy for providing self-help and self-advocacy among individuals with significant disabilities.
A fifth focus of service involves programs that facilitate the transition from nursing homes and other institutions to the community and provide assistance to those at risk for entering institutions. These programs also facilitate the transition for teens and young adults from school to adult life.
Under these five categories of services, a diverse number of programs may be offered. Examples of programs currently offered in some areas are:
• Educational programming: Supporting a variety of outreach activities in the community, including outreach to school systems and other organizations.
• Recreational programs: Promoting accessible activities and programs, including monitoring state or federally sponsored programs for compliance with guidelines.
• Transportation: Promoting programs that are accessible and accommodate persons with disabilities.
• Housing: Conducting awareness programs for realtors and contractors regarding accessible housing and increasing the number of accessible housing units for persons with disabilities.
• Support Groups: Assisting persons with disabilities, their families and friends, in finding others with similar interests and ideas and helping to support the group’s interests and focus such as socialization or mobilization. These groups can have very diverse members.
• Youth Services: Supporting integration of individuals into age appropriate programs that exist in the community.
• Vision and Mobility Services: Assisting persons with visual impairments to locate services, obtain visual supports, and integrate into the community.
• Referral Services: Providing information, referral and support to persons in need of services and adaptive devices
• Community Centers: Drop in centers where persons with disabilities can meet others, exchange ideas and hang with friends.
• Aging Programs: Assisting in finding appropriate programs for aging persons with disabilities including home-based services in order to maintain independence in the community and in their own homes.
Family and Social Services Administration website: https://www.in.gov/fssa/ddrs/2762.htm.
Indiana Statewide Independent Living Council website: https://www.in.gov/fssa/ddrs/2770.htm.
Title VII: Independent Living Services and Centers for Independent Living. Rehabilitation Act of 1973 link: https://dhs.sd.gov/drs/Section%207%20Rehab%20Act%202014.pdf.
Wheeler, M. (2018). Indiana centers for independent living. Retrieved from indiana-centers-for-independent-living.