The Independent Living (IL) movement has its roots in Berkeley, California, and the advocacy of students with disabilities who rejected the institutional nature of care. Through their advocacy, IL spread throughout the United States in the late 1970s. At the same time, and throughout the early 1980s, the concept of IL also began to take root in Canada.

In Canada, several factors were central to the growth of the movement, including: the United Nations Declaration of the International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981; the release of the Obstacles Report1; the federal government’s advancement of de-institutionalization2; and the grassroots work of Canadian leaders within the disability movement, such as Henry Enns. By 1985, five Independent Living Resource Centres (ILRCs) were either operating or in development stages in the following communities: Waterloo, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Calgary and Quebec City.

Through the active involvement and support of the Coalition of Provincial Organizations of the Handicapped (now the Council of Canadians with Disabilities), the Canadian IL movement formally established itself in 19863 at the first Canadian IL conference in Ottawa, where the Canadian Association of Independent Living Centres (CAILC) was formed. It is important to note that although the Canadian movement has its roots in the independence its American counterparts demanded, the movements are in fact quite distinct. The difference between these movements further highlights the importance of CAILC as a national coordinating body.

In the United States, the IL model promotes collective advocacy as well as a greater emphasis on an alternate method for the delivery of services. Through CAILC, the Canadian movement has focused on individual skills development and disability-led initiatives.4 In Canada, IL has been about empowering the individual to self-identify positive change and to facilitate greater independence through the active and meaningful involvement of persons with disabilities. As such, CAILC and ILRCs have evolved to inform and complement the supports and services offered through the government. For example, ILRCs in Ontario enable adults with physical disabilities to become employers of their own attendants through the Direct Funding program.

Much has happened over the last 20 years to both the disability movement and CAILC. Both have grown and continue to adapt to an ever-changing political landscape. Throughout this change, one thing remains true: people with disabilities deserve more. With this in mind, CAILC looks forward to a future in which even more persons with disabilities can be positively affected by Independent Living.

Jihan Abbas is CAILC’s Research and Policy Consultant.

CAILC will host its 20th Anniversary in Richmond, British Columbia, from October 19 to 21, 2006. Although we will be celebrating our rich history, we will also be looking ahead to the future and the possibilities it holds. The theme is “Back to the Future,” and we will try to envision what an accessible and inclusive world will look like 100 years from now. The 20th Anniversary committee is creating a contest for youth (both able-bodied and disabled) to write about what they see in the future in terms of access and inclusion. Start imagining the possibilities now, and keep watching CAILC’s website at for details on how to enter!

1 The Obstacles report was tabled in Parliament by the Special Committee on the Disabled and the Handicapped. It can be viewed online here:
2 Nyp, G. (2002) Reaching for More: The Evolution of the Independent Living Centre of Waterloo Region. Independent Living Centre of Waterloo.
3 Valentine, F. (1996) Locating Disability: People with Disabilities, their Movements and the Canadian Federal State. A thesis submitted to the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research: Carleton University.
4 Ibid.