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The Evolution of Independent Living Programs

Nosek MA, Zhu Y, Howland CA. The evolution of independent living programs. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin 1992; 35: 174-89.


Over the past decade, a number of independent living programs in the United States have mushroomed. Since 1977, the total has risen from 52 to more than 400. One of the first programs, the Berkeley Center for Independent Living, became the prototype for the effective delivery of independent living services. Pioneered in the early 1970s by persons with severe disabilities, this program was designed to help others with disabilities to live independently and to promote a more accessible society. With the assistance of federal funding, independent living programs modeled after the Berkeley Center have been established throughout the United States. Despite such phenomenal growth and development in this field, questions remain about the characteristics of independent living programs, the characteristics that distinguish them from traditional service providers, and the ways in which they are likely to evolve in the future. To demonstrate exactly how independent living programs have evolved to reflect their many differences from traditional models of rehabilitation service delivery, Independent Living Research Utilization (ILRU) has conducted several surveys of the characteristics of independent living programs in the United States. Established in 1977 as an information resource, ILRU was the first to conduct research leading to the standardization of definitions related to independent living. It also conducted the first national survey of independent living programs in 1977, followed by others in 1984, 1986 and 1988. After becoming a research and training center for independent living in 1985, ILRU considerably expanded the survey in 1986, which was improved and repeated in 1988 to provide a basis for comparison. The purpose of this article is to clarify many of the lingering questions about the features of a typical independent living program by presenting the results of the 1988 survey. In addition, a comparison of results with those from the 1986 survey was seen as potentially illuminating future directions for theevolution of independent living (IL) programs. To provide a backdrop against which independent living programs have evolved since 1977, the philosophy, services, and traditional funding sources of independent living programs are discussed.

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