Centers for Independent Living

An overview of Centers for Independent Living and the services they provide people with disabilities

The Massachusetts Office on Disability (MOD) believes the Centers for Independent Living (CILs) provide services of great value to the disability community. On this page we give an overview of what they are, what they offer and some answers to common questions.

CILs are also sometimes known as Independent Living Centers (ILCs).

Table of Contents

What is a Center for Independent Living (CIL)?

Centers for Independent Living (CILs) are community-based disability advocacy organizations. People do not live at CILs. They seek to ensure that individuals with disabilities can live independently in the community of their choice with the services and supports they need.

What services do CILs provide?

CILs are a one-stop resource for the disability community offering five core services: 

  • Information & Referral services provide basic information about CIL services, as well as other existing services, programs, and resources. Individuals with disabilities, family members, providers, and any other interested parties may contact a CIL for information and resources. 
  • Peer Support services connect individuals with disabilities to peer mentors who can share information and knowledge based on common experiences. Peer mentors are people who have disabilities and have worked with CILs themselves. A successful peer mentor relationship can create a meaningful connection, enhancing a consumer’s confidence and ability to reach independent living goals.

  • Skills Training services are individually designed to address a consumer’s specific, self-identified independent living goals. Skills trainers help consumers identify their individual independent living goals and the steps needed to achieve them. This is all documented in an “independent living plan.” The consumer and skills trainer work on the goals outlined in the plan. Examples of goals and assistance could include, but are not limited to, providing education on subjects like budgeting and cooking or learning how to apply for programs and navigate systems. A skills trainer works together with the consumer, empowering them as they take steps to achieve their goals.
  • Advocacy services can be provided to individuals who face a barrier in receiving a service or who have been denied a service. CILs also engage in systemic advocacy, such as addressing architectural access barriers within their service area or focusing on legislation or policy change to address a need within the disability community.
  • Transition services are for individuals moving from institutional settings to the community and for youth who are seeking skills to live independently in the community as adults.

Helping individuals move out of nursing homes and into the community is the cornerstone of the independent living movement. CILs assist individuals who wish to leave institutional settings in arranging and navigating services and supports and gaining necessary skills to live independently in the community.

Similarly, youth who are leaving the school setting that has provided them with services and supports during their school years need to be introduced to available adult services and supports and learn how to navigate them. CILs can assist youth in identifying their independent living goals and the services and supports that will assist them in achieving those goals. They can also help youth learn how to apply for services, how to interact with providers, and gain skills that will assist in living independently.

Frequent topics addressed in peer support and independent living skills training: 

  • Identifying services/supports that meet someone’s specific needs 
  • Financial management 
  • Finding and applying for affordable housing 
  • Social skills 
  • Self-advocacy skills 
  • Personal care 
  • Household management 
  • Applying for healthcare, benefits, and/or subsidies 
  • Youth transition to adulthood

While all CILs offer the same five core services, most CILs offer additional programming. Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • The Personal Care Attendant Program
  • Helping consumers pass the RMV learner’s permit test 
  • Helping consumers apply for a durable medical equipment loan
  • Pre-employment Transition Services
  • Financial literacy workshops
  • ADA consultations
  • Accessibility plans

Who do Centers for Independent Living serve?

Centers for Independent Living serve individuals of all ages and with any type of disability. The services are free. Individuals with disabilities, family members, providers, and members of the public may all utilize a CIL for information about programs, services, benefits, and resources. Direct services, such as peer support and independent living services, are only available to individuals with disabilities. A CIL will not provide direct services at the request of a family member, friend, or provider, without assurance from the individual with a disability that they want to participate and receive services.

How are CILs different from other organizations providing direct services?

CILs were created out of the independent living philosophy, which recognizes that individuals with disabilities are in the best position to make decisions about how they should live their lives and participate in community life. Since the majority of staff at CILs are people with disabilities, they are familiar with the physical, programmatic, and attitudinal barriers that individuals with disabilities face. They've also had similar life experiences and can offer meaningful insight on addressing issues. CIL staff understand that when barriers to participation are removed, and when appropriate services and supports are available, individuals with disabilities can live productive lives in the community. 

CILs do not provide case management. Unlike traditional providers, CILs are focused on empowering individuals with disabilities to make their own choices and to advocate for themselves. CIL staff will not do the work on behalf of a consumer, but rather will assist them in resolving issues and achieving their goals. Recognizing that some individuals need more support than others, a CIL will meet the consumer where they are. The expectation is that all consumers will be active participants when receiving services. 

How do I get services from a Center for Independent Living?

In Massachusetts there are ten CILs and each has a specific service area. Find the CIL that serves your area and contact them. There is no lengthy application involved. Eligibility is based on a willingness to participate.  

When you contact a CIL, let them know what disability-related barriers you are facing, and, if you know, which of the five core services you are seeking. Try to be specific about what type of assistance you are seeking. For example, instead of asking, “do you provide housing?” ask, “what specific assistance can you provide me in finding housing?” 

Can a CIL advocate for me?

CILs provide both individual and systemic advocacy to maximize independence and remove physical and attitudinal barriers.

A CIL can advocate on behalf of an individual to remove a barrier to service, to improve communication with a third party, to obtain an accommodation, or to resolve an issue that is impacting their independence.

CILs also advocate to make communities more accessible by engaging in systemic advocacy work. Examples of systemic advocacy could include: addressing physical and communication barriers within the community, addressing policies and practices that have the effect of excluding people with disabilities, and supporting educational and legislative initiatives that address the needs and the rights of the disability community. CILs engage the disability community in their efforts to increase independence and advocate for equal access and opportunity. 

How are Centers for Independent Living funded?

CILs are private nonprofit organizations that receive both state and federal funding. Each CIL is overseen by a Board of Directors, the majority of whom are individuals with disabilities. All CILs in the state are affiliated with the Massachusetts Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC) which is responsible for developing, implementing, and monitoring the State Plan for Independent Living in a way that is consistent with the independent living philosophy. 

What if I have questions or concerns about my rights to receive services from a CIL?

MOD’s Client Assistance Program (CAP) provides confidential and neutral support for people who have questions and concerns about their independent living services or their rights to these services. If an individual has concerns about any of the five core services they are receiving, they should reach out to CAP to understand their rights and obligations and to get assistance in resolving the issue. 

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