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Reinvigorating the Rehab Act’s Independent Living Programs: Partnerships to Accelerate Progress

September 26, 2023
Source: Administration for Community Living (ACL)

Written by Jill Jacobs, Commissioner of ACL’s Administration on Disabilities

The independent living (IL) movement and the Rehab Act are inextricably linked. It was the IL movement that drove the signing of the law and the initial regulations to implement it, and the law that created ACL’s independent living programs. The Rehab Act is as powerful — and as important to disabled people and the independent living movement — as it was 50 years ago. And the independent living movement — and the programs ACL operates to support it — are a driving force behind efforts to reinvigorate implementation of the law.

Led by disabled people for disabled people, ACL’s independent living programs provide a broad array of services and supports that make community living possible for people with all types of disabilities. They employ a person-centered approach, with services tailored to the needs, preferences, desires and aspirations of the person receiving them, and empower people with disabilities to make choices that promote their independence, overall health, and equity.

Increasingly, the independent living programs are collaborating with partners at the federal, state, and local levels to streamline access to services for disabled people, leverage all available resources and funding streams to support community living, and advocate for common goals.

For example, community living is not possible without affordable, accessible housing, but finding and securing housing can be an insurmountable barrier for people with disabilities. And even when they can find housing itself, lack of access to services and supports becomes a significant barrier to maintaining it. In every state and community, there are a number of entities and programs helping people access housing and supportive services, but those systems often are siloed. Collaboration and coordination between them would stretch resources by avoiding duplication, simplify access to home and community-based services for the people who need them, and ultimately make community living possible for more people.

In 2021, HHS and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) partnered to launch the Housing and Services Resource Center (HSRC) to foster that collaboration. Led by ACL, the HSRC is connecting the disability and aging networks, including centers for independent living, to public housing authorities and housing providers; state Medicaid, disability, aging, and behavioral health agencies; homeless services organizations and networks; health care systems and providers; and tribal organizations, and others who are working to help people live successful and stably in the community.

By partnering with CILs, the people served by all of these systems can more easily access assistive technology, accessible transportation, home modifications, smart home solutions, and more to help them live independently, in the community.

ACL’s independent living programs also are working with partners to improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Earlier this year, ACL and the Department of Education’s Rehabilitation Services Agency (RSA) announced a new partnership to integrate centers for independent living into RSA’s Pathways to Partnerships Innovative Model Demonstration Project, which focuses on building partnerships between the systems that support disabled youth as they transition from school to adult life to increase their opportunities for competitive, integrated employment. To be eligible for the funding, state vocational rehabilitation agencies and state educational agencies must partner with federally-funded CILs. The goal is to create a cohesive service delivery model that is truly centered around the concepts of self-advocacy and the IL philosophy. The funding will allow states to coordinate funding between programs, test new ideas, and support innovative projects that foster this teamwork approach.

ACL also established the Disability Employment Technical Assistance Center (DETAC) to help grantees, including CILs, support competitive, integrated employment and economic stability for disabled people.

In addition, ACL’s independent living programs are supporting development of partnerships and collaborations within the independent living movement to ensure that all people with disabilities — disabled people of all ages and with all types of disabilities, from all races, ethnicities, and nationalities; sexual orientations and gender identities; socioeconomic statuses; and more — are included, and that no one is left behind. For example, last year ACL launched the National Center for Disability, Equity, and Intersectionality, which aims to identify and reduce life-limiting inequities in key areas that affect the lives of people with disabilities.

The independent living movement will be more effective in its advocacy work, and the programs that empower disabled people to live the lives [they] want to lead will be stronger and more effective, when the full diversity of the disability community is represented.

These are just a few examples, and this list could go on and on. ACL is proud to work side by side with the disability community — and particularly disabled people themselves — to support people with disabilities, create more paths to independence and dignity for all, and advance the goals of the Rehab Act.

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