Hooray for Independent Living Centers – Happy Independence Day!

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by Emily Flynn, Youth/Independent Living Specialist, Solano County

I started working for Independent Living Resources of Solano and Contra Costa County in May of 2013.  In the past year I have learned so much! I have learned how people with all different disabilities can live independently in their own way.  This may mean getting them tools to budget their finances or to be able to travel on their own to appointments.  It can also mean giving individuals the ability to practice and hone their advocacy skills, know and understand their rights, and how to navigate the institutional systems dedicated to protecting their rights. 
 When I started as our center’s Independent Living Youth Specialist, I had very little knowledge of what Independent Living Centers (ILCs) had to offer.  Being a student with a disability I received the accommodations I needed throughout my schooling, but I had no help outside of school.  Now, one of my biggest goals is to make sure people with disabilities have all the support -both in and outside of school- that they need to be successful in their chosen goals.  
picture of Emily and Rachel setting up an outreach table with AT Network yellow bracelets in their hands
Emily and Rachel setting up an outreach event for Ability Tools
An amazing benefit to my job is how rewarding it is to teach a consumer some of the skills they can utilize to reach their full potential. Our ILC has several different facets, offering  support, education, advocacy, and outreach. The direct services we provide to consumers include independent living skills training, educational support, assistive technology services, peer support, housing referral services and benefits counseling.  
My favorite work experience at our ILC is the one-on-one work I get to do with the consumers.  Sometimes this consists of just sitting with the individual and sharing our experiences and struggles we have both encountered as a person with a disability, and providing advice to one another.  At times I have the opportunity to do some advocacy work with the consumer in different situations such as housing and school accommodation rights. Or, I might receive a call from individuals who don’t know where to turn or simply have no idea what kind of help is out there and I get to point them in the right direction and give them helpful resources.   
 At our center we are also fortunate to have a benefits specialist on staff that is WIPA certified to answer questions and guide individuals  through the Social Security process.    
Another great service provided by ILCs that I myself have used, is the assistive technology service.  Ability Tools, California’s Assistive Technology program, has a network of AT advocates across the state that work in ILCs. These AT specialists are able to find or loan out durable medical equipment and other AT to individuals with disabilities that may not be able to find or afford the equipment they need. They also assist consumers with connecting to the AT Exchange to find AT equipment for free, low cost or to borrow or for free.  The services at your local ILCs can provide you the support and skills to enable you to live a more independent life.
The services provided at Independent Living Centers can really change people’s lives.  I am grateful for the opportunity to assist people every day.   It has changed my life and hopefully it can change yours as well. My hope is that  consumers won’t  go through the same struggles that I have experienced with my disabilities. Since ILCs are managed by mostly people with disabilities, this gives them a uniqueness that not all other nonprofits have. The goal of ILCs is to empower individuals and promote independence.  I would encourage any person living with a disability that may have questions to contact their local Independent Living Center.  

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