What is Independent Living?

Independent Living is having control over one's life. This means being able to make the decisions and choose the direction of one's life to the fullest extent possible. Historically, people with disabilities have been denied the right and opportunity to make their own decisions.

The term "Independent Living" also denotes a philosophy, which advocates for the availability of a wide range of services and options maximizing self-reliance and self-determination in all of life's activities.

MRC Community Living Services incorporates the independent living philosophy into each service. Each service is designed for consumers to take responsibility for use of those services necessary for optimizing his or her independence. Independence may mean different things to different people and should be defined by the consumer with each individual choosing the resources or services that will empower their independence.

An overview of Independent Living (IL)

What is an Independent Living Center?

Independent Living Centers (ILCs) are private, nonprofit, consumer-controlled, community-based organizations providing services and advocacy by and for persons with all types of disabilities. Their goal is twofold; to create opportunities to promote independence and to assist individuals with disabilities to achieve their maximum level of independent functioning within their families and/or communities.

How is independent living achieved?

Centers for Independent Living assist individuals with disabilities in achieving their self-identified goals through peer counseling, skills training, advocacy, information and referral. Centers may also provide a range of other services such as housing referrals, communication assistance, support groups, transportation, health information and much more.

ILCs offer people with disabilities an alternative to costly and often inhumane institutionalization. Most importantly, these Centers offer persons with disabilities the opportunity to make vital decisions affecting their lives, enabling them to make the transition from unwanted dependence to a full, productive and independent life.

What else do Independent Living Centers do?

Centers for Independent Living serve as a strong consumer voice on a wide range of national, state and local issues. They work to assure physical and programmatic access to housing, employment, transportation, community life, recreational facilities, and health and social services. Many have been instrumental in the development of personal care services and have worked to reduce physical barriers in a number of Massachusetts communities.

Why is community-based independent living the best and most economically feasible option for people with disabilities?

The average yearly cost of institutionalization is $110,000, while the typical cost of independent community-based living is $35-50,000 annually. Independent Living Centers are vital in assisting persons with disabilities to make the transition from restrictive and costly institution-based settings to less expensive community-based living.

Principal Features of Independent Living Center Services

  • Consumer control over policy and management decisions -
    Persons with disabilities should control decisions governing organizational policies and procedures, as well as the provisions of services and community activities.
  • Consumer control of service objectives and methods -
    This aspect of independent living services places primary responsibility for identifying service needs, setting independent living goals and objectives, and making decisions about service participation with the consumer who is receiving services.
  • Cross-disability emphasis -
    Independent living emphasizes a responsiveness to the needs of all persons with disabilities. This separates the independent living program from programs emphasizing services to a particular disability group.
  • Community based and community responsive -
    Independent Living Centers are designed to be responsible and accessible to the disability community in their service locale and to significantly involve the community in setting program priorities.
  • Peer role modeling -
    The emphasis on peer role modeling in independent living reflects a belief that people with disabilities can greatly benefit from the perspectives and support of others with disabilities who have successfully struggled to lead productive and meaningful lives in their communities.
  • Provision of a range of services -
    Independent living is responsive to various consumer needs for knowledge, skills, options and support associated with achieving personal independence. A range of services is provided, including such services as personal assistance services, housing services, transportation services, educational services, vocational services, equipment services, communication services, advocacy services and social/recreational services.
  • An emphasis on community advocacy -
    Independent living recognizes that in order for consumers to achieve independent lifestyles, environmental and social barriers in the community must be eliminated. Thus, there is a dual commitment to individual services and community advocacy. Activities are conducted to enhance opportunities for people with disabilities to have equal access to all aspects of community life and to achieve meaningful integration into society.
  • Open and ongoing access to services -
    Independent living services are open and available to consumers on an ongoing basis, reflecting the individual's evolving and continuing needs and interests.

Who is Eligible?

Any individual with a significant physical, mental, cognitive or sensory impairment for whom the delivery of IL services will improve their ability to: function, continue functioning or move towards functioning independently in the family or community, and/or obtain, maintain or advance in employment.

How Do I Apply?

An individual or his/her representative may call their local IL Center to begin the intake process. The individual with the disability must desire the service, as all IL services are consumer controlled. If only information is required, it will be provided over the telephone or fact sheets will be sent to the caller. For individuals needing more direct IL services, a peer counselor or skills trainer will be assigned to meet with the individual to gather background information and determine the individual's IL goals.

What is the relationship of IL Centers to the MRC Community Living Services and its Independent Living Department?

MRC's Community Living Services support the operation and staffing of all 11 Independent Living Centers with federal and state ILC funding. Community Living staff monitor and evaluate the performance of IL Centers and also serves to coordinate and fund a variety of services delivered by a Center. Call the Center nearest you to find out how to receive these supportive, informative and life changing services.

Where are IL Centers located?

There are 11 Independent Living Centers statewide. Please go to a list of IL Centers for locations.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment and public services provided by government agencies. If consumers or employees of the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission believe that they have been discriminated against on the basis of disability, they should contact the Diversity Director,

Mary F. Connelly, Esquire
Director of Diversity, Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission
600 Washington Street, Boston, Massachusetts  02111
617-204-3736 or 617-727-1354 (fax)


This information is provided by the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission.