A picture of a man who uses a wheelchair and a 1960s VW Bug

Image: a man who uses a wheelchair and a 1960s VW Bug

CPWD and Centers for Independent Living

A Legacy and Ongoing Effort

Centers for Independent Living (CILs) stand as a testament to the unwavering spirit of the Independent Living Movement. Unlike traditional human service providers, CILs prioritize empowerment and self-determination, providing services that support and assist individuals with disabilities to become the architects and owners of their independence. CILs came into being in the 1960s as a response to widespread marginalization and discrimination against people with disabilities, and a lack of supports and services that enabled people with disabilities to live independently. CPWD was founded in 1977 to provide independent living services as a CIL. Following, we will explore some historical highlights and important elements of CILs, CPWD, and independent living.

From Segregation to Self-Determination: The Rise of the Independent Living Movement

For decades, the narrative surrounding disability was one of dependence and institutionalization. Prior to the Independent Living Movement, individuals with disabilities often faced segregated living arrangements and limited opportunities to living independently. Access to housing, employment, accessible transportation, and more were essential unavailable. In tandem with the Civil Rights Movement and an era of protest and reform in the 1960s, certain individuals and groups of people with disabilities stood up against the status quo, taking advocacy and activist action to call attention to the problem, and asking for improvements in accessibility, equality and equity. This become the Independent Living Movement, a revolution to end marginalization and discrimination, and a call for new laws and right that would support independent living. Ed Roberts, often referred to as the “father of independent living,” emerged as a central figure in this revolution.

Image description: A black and white photo OF Ed Roberts with friend at UC Berkeley

Image: A black and white photo OF Ed Roberts with friend at UC Berkeley

Ed Roberts: A Life of Advocacy and the Birth of the First CIL

At 14, polio left Ed Roberts paralyzed and dependent on an iron lung. Yet, his spirit remained fiercely independent. Fighting for his right to education, he defied the academic institution, that historically had categorically denied higher education for people with disabilities, ultimately becoming one of the first UC Berkeley students with a significant disability to attend a mainstream university. This victory empowered him to further advocate for his rights and the rights of others.

While at Berkeley, Ed formed “The Rolling Quads,” a group dedicated to disability rights and equity. He recognized the need for support beyond campus and envisioned a community-based resource center. In 1972, this vision materialized with the opening of the Berkeley Center for Independent Living, the first CIL in the world. Its core values, including dignity, peer support, consumer control, civil rights, and equal access, became the foundation for Independent Living Philosophy.

Learn more about what a CIL is

Learn more about Independent Living Philosophy


The Ever-Evolving Landscape of Independent Living

Fast forward to today, the world has transformed. Technological advancements, shifting political landscapes, and growing awareness of diversity have all played a role in shaping the independent living landscape. Laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have further solidified the rights of Individuals with disabilities.

Centers for Independent Living: Carrying the Torch

CILs, like CPWD, continue to carry the torch lit by the pioneers of the Independent Living Movement. While CILs continue to work on dismantling the barriers that obstruct the path to independent living for Individuals with disabilities, they are also proactively providing services that support independent living. CPWD’s mission is to provide resources, information and advocacy to assist people with disabilities in overcoming barriers to independent living.

Most CILs, including CPWD, offer a range of services, including:

  • Independent Living Skills Training: CILs equip individuals with the skills necessary to navigate daily life with greater autonomy. This can include training in communication, self-care, technological tools, and navigating accessible transportation.
  • Peer Support: CILs foster a sense of community by connecting individuals with peers who share similar experiences. This network provides invaluable emotional support and fosters a sense of belonging.
  • Advocacy: CILs work tirelessly to advocate for policies and practices that promote inclusivity and ensure equal access to opportunities and resources for Individuals with disabilities.
  • Information and Referral: CILs act as a central hub for information and connection to essential services and resources relevant to independent living.
  • Youth and Nursing Home Transitions: Assisting youth with disabilities in transitioning from high school to adulthood; and assisting people with disabilities who are in nursing institutions to transition to their own home and independent living.

CPWD Staff

Image: CPWD Staff in front of a treed, hillside backdrop

The Power of Lived Experience: CPWD’s Board of Directors and Staff

Much of CPWD’s strength lies in its board of directors and staff. These individuals, with their diverse backgrounds and disabilities, bring a wealth of lived experience to the organization. Firsthand experience and understanding enables CPWD staff to assist consumers in a way that is based on real life needs and outcomes. The board’s commitment fosters a culture of inclusion and ensures that the spirit of empowerment continues to be the driving force behind CPWD’s mission.

Looking Forward: Building a More Inclusive Future

The journey towards truly inclusive and independent living for Individuals with disabilities is ongoing. Challenges like access to affordable and accessible housing, ongoing discrimination, and the limitations of current technologies still persist. However, CILs, built on the legacy of the Independent Living Movement, stand as a beacon of hope. Through continued advocacy, empowerment, and a commitment to dismantling barriers, CILs like CPWD work towards ensuring that all individuals, regardless of ability, have the opportunity to live fulfilling and independent lives. 

Learn more about CPWD’s History

Learn more about CPWD’s Board



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