Independent Living for People with Disabilities supports people with disabilities to make choices for themselves. They have the freedom to decide how they want to live their lives without interference. The philosophy also promotes equality where people with disabilities can participate fully in the community through proper infrastructure and support.

Independent Living for People with Disabilities respects the rights, dignity and choice of individuals by advocating equal opportunities and support that leads to self-determination. The four key concepts of Independent Living as expounded by Ed Roberts, one of the founders of the Independent Living movement in the USA during the early-seventies, are as follows:

  • People with disabilities should live in their communities instead of staying at institutions.
  • People with disabilities are neither patients to be cared, children to be protected, nor God to be worshipped.
  • People with disabilities themselves can identify the necessary assistance required and manage it.
  • People with disabilities are the victims of social prejudice rather than the victims of disabilities.
  • Independent Living does not mean that a disabled person wants to live by himself or do everything by himself. When assistance is needed, it must be provided to elevate the quality of life through personal assistants, assistive devices and other support services.

For example, there is no point in a disabled person spending two hours dressing up when a personal assistant can help him accomplish the task in five minutes. The time saved can be utilised in doing other more productive activities.

Disabled persons, like everyone else, desire to live in the community like the non-disabled, get educated in mainstream schools, be gainfully employed in jobs that fairly pay for their skills and qualifications, enjoy a leisurely stroll around the neighbourhood, or go to the movies.

Personal Assistants

Personal Assistants (P.A.) are integral to the Independent Living movement. In this context, the disabled person is referred to as a client. P.A.s assist a client with daily activities according to their needs. That includes feeding, personal hygiene and toileting. Communication between a P.A. and client is important. Clients must be able to provide clear instructions to enable the P.A. to carry out the tasks effectively.

International Scenarios

In the U.S., a Centre for Independent Living provides services that support disabled persons living independently or planning to soon live independently in the community. To qualify as a centre in the USA and to be able to receive federal grants, centres must fulfil a set of criterias:

  • At least 51% of the board members must be people with disability
  • Key decision making positions must be occupied by people with disability
  • At least one staff must be a person with disability

Centre for Independent Living must provide the following services:

  • Information provision and referrals (services, housing, personal assistants)
  • Peer counselling (conducted only by disabled persons)
  • Independent Living Programmes (independent living skills)
  • Advocacy (accessibility, equalization of opportunities)

Apart from that, Independent Living Centres are encouraged to provide other services such as accessible transportation. These centres must serve all types of disabilities and not be limited to only one kind of disability.

Peer Counselling

Peer Counselling must always be conducted by persons with disabilities as they are the best people to understand the challenges faced by another person with disabilities. Peer counselling seeks to liberate persons with disabilities by the sharing of information in solving challenges.

The goals of Peer Counselling are:

  • Recovery of self worth – Peer counseling allows disabled persons to be aware of their own feelings and needs, regain confidence through the realisation of their potential, and set goals to fully utilise those abilities.
  • Rebuilding human relationships – Re-establishing relationships with family and society, and regaining trust in people is crucial in order for a P.W.D. to live in the community.
  • Social reformation – Going back to live in the community to change attitudes, perceptions and environment. This can be in the form of advocacy and creating public awareness on the needs of disabled persons.

Sarawak Occupational Therapy Conference

The Sarawak Occupational Therapy Conference: Driver Rehabilitation” was held from 20th – 23rd August 2007 in Kuching, Sarawak. It was attended by participants from hospitals, N.G.O.s and J.P.J. A lot of topics related to driver rehabilitation were discussed including driving assessment, car modifications, licensing and assistive technology. The conference came out with the following resolutions:

  • To survey / collect data on all aspects of Driving Rehabilitation currently available in Malaysia – can be carried out simultaneously throughout the country via O.T. departments in M.O.H., U.H. etc.
  • To obtain guidelines for disabled drivers – BAKTI-MIND will undertake this task
  • To organise training workshops on Driving by P.W.D. – to be handled by BAKTI-MIND in 2008
  • To initate credentialing process for occupational therapists doing pre-driving and driving assessments for PWD
  • All O.T. departments (K.S.K.B., U.i.T.M., M.O.H.) throughout the country are encouraged to put up budgets for basic pre-driving and driving assessment kits
  • Establishing networking among key members of the Driver Rehabilitation Conference committee and participants who are keen on a follow-up to the project – BAKTI-MIND will initiate discussion forum on MIND website and an e-group dedicated to this work
  • To set up a steering committee to process work related to driving rehabilitation – MIND website can be used for virtual communication
  • To create access for clients to gather and exchange information – the MIND website can be used for this purpose