Events, features and things to do for families in New Hampshire
By Kathy Bates
I like to cook with different herbs that I grow. However, I can’t cook without assistance from someone. The prep work of cutting vegetables is the most difficult part for me, but once that’s done I am free to be the chef.
Choosing what to cook and how to cook it is the most important part of any culinary masterpiece. The same is true about the concept of independent living.
Independent living is one of those phrases tossed around by those who live or work within the human service system. I find this very interesting because the phrase itself has nothing to do with being able to do anything totally independently. What is independent living anyway? The concept has more to do with being able to make choices and fully participate in our own lives than living without the assistance of friends, family or direct support professionals.
None of us live independently; it would be more accurate to say that we live interdependently. I often hear statements from parents like, “My son has a disability and he cannot manage his money. He will never be able to live in his own apartment.” Well, if cooking or managing money were true prerequisites for living independently, we all know someone who could not live up to those standards.
Learning new things always takes practice. There is dignity in risk and even in failure. We learn from our mistakes. Some people who have disabilities need a little more support to be independent, but everyone should have the right to decide how to spend their day. Self determination or self-directed services allow individuals to make choices. They make decisions about who provides these services and how or when they are used. Therefore, it doesn’t matter if a person needs support to help them make choices as long as the basic belief is that everyone deserves the right to make them.
Several fundamental beliefs have been incorporated to create the basis of the independent living philosophy. We as human beings are all unique and should celebrate our differences as well as our similarities. This is no different for individuals with disabilities. We are the experts of our own lives. People who experience disabilities as a part of their everyday lives are best qualified to discuss and share their knowledge with others of the issues they may face.
For this reason peer support is one of the primary focuses of the independent living philosophy.
Even though disability touches every society and every community, we are still a minority and as a minority we are oppressed. It is very important our voices be heard. One of the best ways to do this is to encourage each other to take on leadership roles as directors, board members and employees of agencies that serve people who experience disabilities. Parents need to provide opportunities for their children to advocate for themselves. I believe children need to see advocacy in action and everyone needs a voice even if they have difficulty with communication.
Cross disability is an important part of this philosophy. Despite the specific differences of individual disabilities, we all have to deal with many of the same issues. All agencies, boards, councils and committees that serve people with disabilities should primarily have a cross disability focus. In fact, many issues such as transportation, employment, education and health care also impact the larger community. All programs designed to serve people should strive to ensure equal social, cultural, economic and political opportunities for all citizens.
If we believe in the independent living philosophy then we see people who have disabilities as individuals that have gifts and talents who can participate fully in their own lives. We are not only service recipients, but we also contribute to our communities.
Kathy Bates is a writer, advocate and teacher. She has a degree in elementary education from St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, NC. She has been a group leader for the Leadership Series through the Institute on Disability for more than 10 years, and has advised People First of New Hampshire. Bates recently started her own consulting business, Wings and Wheels Consulting Services.
Last updated by Morgen Thiboult Sep 12, 2011.