Learn Your Special Education Laws, Special Education Rights, and Share IEP Goal Ideas

Jun 17
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by Jess

Another acronym? Yes! And this one’s been around for forty years. It pre-dates the first federal special education law. CILs remain a vital, but too often untapped resource for people of all ages with disabilities.

A CIL (pronounced S-ill ), is a Center for Independent Living. Sounds like a place where people live, right? But, it’s not.

Centers for Independent Living (CILs) are non-profit community-based organizations that are run by people with all sorts of disabilities. CILs are an integral part of the Disability Rights and Independent Living Movements in this country.


The first CIL was started by Ed Roberts and others in Berkley, CA in 1972. Here’s a brief video of Ed Roberts speaking with youth in the early 1980s. http://www.mnddc.org/ed-roberts/discover.html. You can further taste the rich history of the Independent Living Movement by watching this slide show


Ten Principles (National Council on Independent Living - NCIL)

Local CILs vary, one from another, in many ways.  They are grass-roots community organizations. Yet, all CILs share a set of underlying principles.  Borne of a shared history, these principles combine to guide the mission of CILs today.

  • Civil Rights – equal rights for all; no segregation by disability type or stereotype.
  • Consumerism - a person using or buying a service or product decides what is best for him/herself.
  • De-medicalization - individuals with disabilities are not "sick", as prescribed by the assumptions of the medical model.
  • De-institutionalization - no person should be institutionalized on the basis of a disability.
  • Self-help - people learn and grow from discussing their needs, concerns, and issues with people who have had similar experiences.
  • Barrier-removal - architectural, communication and attitudinal barriers must be removed.
  • Advocacy - systemic, long-term, and community-wide change activities are needed to ensure that people with disabilities benefit from all that society has to offer.
  • Peer role models - leadership for independent living and disability rights is vested in individuals with disabilities.
  • Consumer control - the organizations best suited to support individuals with disabilities are governed, managed, staffed and operated by individuals with disabilities.
  • Cross-disability - the work to be done must be carried out by people with different types of disabilities for the benefit of all persons with disabilities. 

Core Services

The size and resources of local CILs vary widely. In every CIL, at least 51% of staff and board members are persons with diverse disabilities.

All CILs have the same Core Services, but many CILs acquire additional resources to build on the core foundation. CIL Core Services are always available free to any person with any disability of any age.

Core Services always include:

  • Information and referral
  • Individual and systems advocacy
  • Peer mentoring
  • Independent living skills training

Many CILs build on this foundation with services such as home modifications and personal assistance services that may be funded through a variety of sources and may involve some cost to the consumer.

Some CILs have ongoing support groups, classes, and other services.

Why is your local CIL an important resource for your child? 

  • Typically, CIL staff understand the diverse and complex laws, systems, and challenges related to disability better than anyone else in a community.
  • CIL staff can answer questions about resources related to all aspects of life at every stage of life (government benefits, health, transportation, education and training, employment, personal assistance, recreation, etc.).
  • You and your child can learn what other agencies may be able to serve your child and when and how to apply.
  • CILs help people help themselves. They challenge and empower people with disabilities to clarify their personal goals and learn to advocate for themselves.
  • You and your child can expand your “circle of support” through a local CIL, developing relationships that enrich your lives and help you to grow.
  • Peer mentoring can be life-changing, especially for adolescents. Learning to set and work toward personal goals with the guidance of an adult self-advocate can empower young people to begin taking charge of their own lives as they prepare for adulthood.
  • CILs help people with all sorts of disabilities learn skills for independent living.

Your local CIL may (or may not) offer many other opportunities.

How can you find your local CIL?

Sometimes CILs don’t have the words “Center for Independent Living” in their name. For example, our local CIL is called Abilities in Motion.

You can find your local CIL by clicking on your state in this map http://www.ilru.org/html/publications/directory/index.html.  You’ll notice that within your state, the CILs are alphabetized by city or town name (rather than CIL name).  Or you can find the State Association for Independent Living in your state here http://www.ilru.org/html/publications/directory/association.html to learn about the CIL closest to you.

Reach out and connect with the people at your local CIL.  You and your child may well find empowering companions for the journey.

Mary Mazzoni has a passion for empowering teens to use their own voice and build the lives they desire.  She provides training and coaching with teachers, youth, families, and IEP teams. Her blog LifeAfterIEPs.com http://lifeafterieps.com/ offers free transition planning tools and tips so teens (and the adults who support them) can plan and act now for their future.

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