Independent Living Resource Centre (ILRC)

The Independent Living Resource Centre opened in February 1984.

Mission Statement

The ILRC is a consumer controlled organization that promotes and supports citizens with disabilities to make choices and take responsibility for the development and management of personal and community resources.

Background and Philosophy

In 1972 four persons with disabilities, in Berkley, California found their support services terminated upon graduation from university. Rather than return to their parental homes or move into an institution, they each rented an apartment and hired an attendant. In time, they expanded and added other services such as peer counseling, wheelchair repair, advocacy, and legal services. Since then, over two hundred Independent Living Centres have been established in the United States, each serving the unique gaps that exist in that particular community. They have been recognized by the passage of legislation, which ensures that funding is provided. For more information - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Independent_living

In Canada, the Obstacles Report (of the Special Committee on the Disabled and the Handicapped, 1981) strongly recommended the establishment of such Centres. In December 1982 the first Independent Living Centre (ILC) in Canada was opened in Kitchener, Ontario providing services of attendant care, housing referral, public education, peer counseling/support, accessibility consultation and training in self-advocacy. The Independent Living Resource Centre (ILRC) opened in Winnipeg in February 1984. It was the second centre of its kind in Canada. A comprehensive understanding of the ILRC must be based upon the understanding of the Independent Living Philosophy and the course of events, which have given rise to the concept of ILC's.

The movement to integrate people with disabilities into society is rooted in the technological advances and cultural changes that developed after World War ll, coupled with the consumer movement that dictated the concept of consumer control. This concept asserts that everyone is entitled to live as independently as possible and that even the most severely and profoundly disabled individuals should be supported to exercise maximum control, over their lives. Independent Living is not living alone; it is a mindset with which an individual can control all aspects of his/her life. The ILC in Berkley was the testing ground of this concept and illustrated the Independent Living Philosophy in action.

Although the services provided by an ILC may vary from city to city, depending on the needs of people with disabilities in the community, the overall goal of all ILC's is the same - to maximize the independence and participation of people with disabilities in their communities. In order to reach this goal, ILC's must be controlled by people with disabilities and recognize the following principles:

  1. People with disabilities, through their experience in being disabled, are aware of the needs of people with disabilities;
  2. Support services should be based on consumer controlled policies;
  3. The goal of IL is to provide the tools needed by an individual to cope with a disabling environment; and
  4. The goal of services is full integration into the community.

The Independent Living Philosophy contends that environmental barriers are as critical, if not more so, than personal characteristics, in determining an individual's ability to "cope" with his/her disability. It also rejects the traditional medical model, which labels people with disabilities as "sick" and forces the person with a disability into the role of "client/passive recipient of services". In contrast, the Independent Living Philosophy views environmental barriers to be the origin of most of the stress and problems experienced by people with disabilities. Factors such as stigma, societal attitudes, access to educational and recreational pursuits, socio-economic status, availability of transportation, and family and interpersonal support, all have significant effect on people with disabilities ability to participate fully in the community. The disability is not seen as the root of the problem. Rather, society's reaction to the existence of the disability, as reflected in societal attitudes and environmental barriers, is seen as the source of an individual's difficulties.

What then, is the place of an ILC in the spectrum of social services already available, and what implications does it have for rehabilitation services and the consumer movement? An ILC is largely a distributor of information about services offered by other social agencies, while providing only a limited number of direct services itself.

These services are provided by:

  1. Relying on the volunteer participation of people with disabilities interested in the self-help approach;
  2. Providing a cross-disability referral and information co-ordination aspect, and;
  3. Complementing, not duplicating, the services already in existence in the community.

The unique aspect of ILC's is not the individual services that they provide, but their delivery approach, which is flexible and open to new ideas as needs are identified. ILC's are open to individuals with any type of disability and will deal with any area of concern, such as housing, transportation, employment, sexuality and available social services. As response Centres, ILC's react to gaps in the community and consumer-identified needs by implementing pilot projects that will eventually be continued by the appropriate community organization.

The evolution of the consumer movement and development of ILC's has had significant implications for rehabilitation services. It is well known that through peer support, people with disabilities can often motivate each other, share information and provide guidance and support that may be less effective when provided by an able-bodied professional. Through the utilization of consumer/volunteers, ILC's staffed largely by persons with disabilities themselves can provide complementary and post-rehabilitation services, with an additional resource - experiential knowledge.

ILC's seek to compliment services offered by consumer advocacy groups. An ILC program such as Individual Advocacy does not duplicate the role of the consumer movement because it focuses on the individual rather than large groups. The consumer movement conducts political lobbying but does not usually have the resources to provide advocacy support to the individual. The statistical information collected from individual situations, however, can then be used by appropriate bodies to obtain changes in services, programs and policies.

The Scene in Winnipeg

In May of 1980, the Coalition of Provincial Organizations of the Handicapped (COPOH), now called The Canadian Council of Persons with Disabilities (CCD) sponsored a National Conference on the Parameters of Rehabilitation, in Vancouver. Gerben Dejong made a presentation on the Independent Living Movement in the United States, and the seed of the independent living movement was planted in Canada. In the same year the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) (Manitoba) established a Handicapped Concerns Committee.

In September, a sub-committee of the Handicapped Concerns Committee was formed to manage the establishment of ILC in Winnipeg. During the summer of 1983, MCC (Manitoba) sponsored a research grant to study the feasibility of establishing an ILC in Winnipeg. Results clearly indicated the need for such a Centre, identifying its needed development in the areas of peer support, individual advocacy, and networking.

Based upon these findings, the Independent Living Resource Centre (ILRC) opened in February 1984. The purpose of the ILRC is:

  1. To establish an Independent Living Resource Centre which will encourage the self-determination, self-help, and participation of all people with disabilities in the community.

  2. To develop several specific Independent Living Programs such as: peer support, self-managed attendant care, information and referral services and individual advocacy.

  3. To research community and individual independent living issues and propose alternative service models to fill in gaps in service as they are identified.

  4. To provide workshops i.e: identify problem areas and stimulate public education about independent living

The ILRC initially started in 1984 with a staff of 1.5 people and a volunteer Director and support staff. In 2011 we have a core staff of 26, more than 20+ programs and projects and approximately 75 casual, part-time, or indirect employees. At various times other individuals are hired for short-term projects.

The Centre's focus on program development is dependent upon ideas expressed by consumers and available funding. Consequently, the Centre's programs and projects evolve according to the community demand and availability of resources. The flexible nature of the Centre permits the development for innovative projects. The Centre has developed both core programs and demonstration projects in several areas. The core programs of the Winnipeg Independent Living Centre in Canada are:

  1. Information and Referral
  2. Peer Support / Independent Living Skills
  3. Research and Development
  4. Individual Advocacy
  5. PACE