The disAbility Resource Center, active since 1992, was incorporated as a Center for Independent Living in 1993. Centers for Independent Living are created to be run by and for people with disabilities, and offer support, advocacy, and information to empower people in reaching their goals of independence.
The dRC’s founder and first Executive Director was Faith Smith who, because of her disability, saw a need, along with others, for a Center for Independent Living in the Fredericksburg/Rappahannock region. Smith, who suffered a spinal cord injury in 1991, wanted a central place where people with disabilities could find answers to their questions and where “someone didn’t tell a person with a disability what to do.”
Originally located on Princess Anne Street, the dRC moved into its own office at 409 Progress St. in the mid 1990’s. The dRC occupies another building, located at 1503 Princess Anne Street, for its durable medical equipment re-use program, the Equipment Connection.
The dRC and all CILs consumer-driven. The majority of the dRC staff and Board are people with disabilities, or family members of people with disabilities, which gives them an understanding of the needs of their consumers. Individuals seeking independent living, peer counseling, advocacy, and transition services set goals, and the dRC supports those individuals by respecting their choices, providing services. and helping them to find needed resources.
The process of deinstitutionalization, releasing people with significant disabilities from life sentences in nursing homes and other institutions, created for the first time in history, an opportunity for people with disabilities to live free and independent lives. From this, a community and a culture with history, values, and an objective were born.
With most state-run institutions closed, people with significant disabilities became more visible, and more audible, too. But society’s unwelcoming attitude did not change. The private medical industry quickly appropriated the responsibilities of formerly state-run institutions.
Centers for Independent Living were created to be run by and for people with disabilities, and offer support, advocacy, and information on becoming empowered to lead their own lives.
Independent Living activists carried out some of the most daring protests in American civil rights history, including the longest occupation of a Federal building in history, which led to the release of the regulations banning discrimination against people with disabilities in federally funded programs. As Independent Living philosophy took hold nationally and the disability rights movement gained acceptance and political influence, a grassroots movement for a comprehensive disability rights law (the ADA) was implemented.
Today, Centers for Independent Living fight similar battles to ensure that the rights of people with disabilities are protected. Even with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, people with disabilities often find that advocacy and support from the disability community and the disability rights movement is an essential element in enforcement of the civil rights law.
In 1972, the first Center for Independent Living was founded by disability activists, led by Ed Roberts, in Berkeley, California. These Centers. There are now over 400 CILs in the U.S. including the disAbility Resource Center.