Living With Polio

Independent Living

The independent living movement grew out of the anger and frustration of people with disabilities who were excluded from places of education, work, general retail, worship, and recreation due to barriers in architecture, transportation, and communications.

Attitudes about people with disabilities ranged from low or no expectation to the promotion of the superhero, perpetuating the idea that people with disabilities, with their various “flaws,” must work hard and overcome their limitations to be accepted by society. Professional attitudes of “we know what is best for people with disabilities” also contributed to the discontent that propelled the independent living movement.

Gini Laurie, founder of Gazette International Networking Institute (Post-Polio Health International), advocated for the rights and opportunities of people with disabilities for 30 years, and for this work she was singled out as a grandmother of the independent living movement. Recognizing that the movement was not isolated from the other social and political trends of the ‘60s and acknowledging that what people with disabilities really wanted was to be included in all aspects of society, Laurie preferred the phrase interdependent living (Laurie, 1988).

Independent living, as used by researchers and health professionals, typically is defined as “control over one’s life based on choice of acceptable options that minimize reliance on others in making and performing everyday activities” (Frieden et al., 1979). Occupational therapists and physical therapists can provide an assessment of one’s functional abilities and can provide options to increase independence in performing everyday activities. Independence does not require physically doing all the tasks of life alone, but does require that an individual with a disability have the opportunity to make independent decisions about life’s tasks (Heumann, 1977). Inherent in making independent decisions is choice, and choice carries with it risk-taking and responsibility.

Excerpt from PHI’s “Handbook on the Late Effects of Poliomyelitis for Physicians and Survivors.” © 1999

Tags for this article:
Disability Rights
Independent Living