Independent living means having control over our own lives. The independent living philosophy believes people with disabilities are entitled to equal rights and opportunity, real choices that enable us to maintain control over our lives, power and authority over the supports and services designed to assist us, and full participation in our communities.
If you do an internet search for empowerment and disability, there are many references that use the term empowerment. At its most basic level, empowerment is defined as a process of assumption or transfer of legal power and official authority (Websters New World Dictionary, 1994). You will also find statements from disability service providers and advocacy organizations that goes something like this, “empowerment of individuals with disabilities so that they can achieve economic self-sufficiency, independent living, and both inclusion and integration into all aspects of society.”
What the independent living philosophy is saying by using the term empowerment, is the transfer of power and control over decisions, choices, and values from external entities (professionals) to the consumer of disability services (people with disabilities). When we are transferring power from an external entity to a consumer, we are talking about: (a) freedom of choice regarding services, (b) influence over the operation and structure of service provision, (c) participation in system-wide human service planning, and (d) participation in decision-making at the community level.
So from an independent living perspective, empowerment consists of possessing the same degree of control over one’s life as ones peers without disabilities, equal rights and opportunity, real choice, power and authority, and full participation.