Coming of Age: Statewide Independent Living Councils

Independence is a quality virtually inherent to American citizens. In fact, most would say the right to independence has been cherished in our country since the nation’s conception. It was perhaps the motivation initiating our drive for freedom and social justice in the first place. However, while the term independence is often associated with historic events dating back hundreds of years, people with disabilities see it as a quality for which they must advocate on a daily basis.

The Eighth Annual Congress of Statewide Independent Living Councils, entitled SILCs: Coming of Age, was held recently in Phoenix, Arizona. The theme of the conference symbolized not only the growth in independence of people with disabilities in the 21st century, but also the increasing recognition of the importance of young people’s views, voices and visions for the disability movement. As such, the congress included a youth-led plenary session and round-table session.

Amendments made during the 1992 reauthorization of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 mandated that each state establish a Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC). These gubernatorially appointed bodies are charged with promoting a philosophy of independent living and formulating state policies to encourage consumer control, peer support, self-help, self-determination, equal access, and both individual and system advocacy. These efforts are intended to maximize the leadership, empowerment, independence and productivity of individuals with disabilities and their integration and full inclusion into the mainstream of American society.

While the SILCs in most states feel the federal requirements are being adequately met, young members of the disability community are stepping forward and asking them to increase their recognition of youth initiatives and youth perspectives. “We have begun a whole new stage in the disability movement,” said Christina Mills, SILC chair for the state of California and an active 27-year-old advocate for disability issues. “Most state councils look at the number of people they are serving, and if the numbers are high, they think they must be meeting their state’s needs. But if we were to look a little deeper it would be pretty apparent that most people receiving these services are 40 to 50 years old or older.

“There is a whole other body of young people with disabilities out there that needs to be tapped into,” Mills stated, “not only to make them aware of the services that state councils like SILCs provide, but to prompt young people of ages 16, 17 or 18 to serve on these councils. They can bring a wealth of information and insight to the councils’ activities, and this is something that our state councils need to take into serious consideration.”

Several of the conference’s more seasoned participants also voiced the need for increased involvement by members of the younger disability community. “The youth presentation really opened my eyes,” admitted Bob Liston, director of the Montana Fair Housing Project and member of the Montana SILC. “It made a lot of us wake up and see that youth are an important part of this movement. Mentoring them, educating them, advising them, listening to them—this is what needs to be done, or the movement could fall through the cracks. We need to help our young people find their niche, whether through politics, policy, advocacy or social interaction. That’s where our responsibility lies.”

Pina Lemusu, a graduate student and member of the Hawaii SILC, mentioned that the youth focus of the Congress captured overwhelmingly her own personal challenges as a younger person with a disability. “I really couldn’t believe it,” she said. “It was awesome for me to see that there are young people out there really trying to explore how they can make their way in our primarily adult-driven world. Honestly, hearing the voices and ideas and recommendations of these young adults, these young advocates, was the best part about the conference. It was a great way to hear fresh ideas from those who will soon be taking the lead in our movement.”

by Betsy Valnes

For more information about independent living services
for people of all ages in your area, visit:

National Council on Independent Living (NCIL)

Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL)

State Independent Living Council (SILC) Congress

Youth Leadership Forum for Students with Disabilities (YLF)

About the author: Betsy Valnes, a young adult with
traumatic brain injury, serves on the South Dakota SILC
and works as the central transition liaison for South Dakota’s
State Departments of Vocational Rehabilitation and
Special Education. She serves as executive director of the
National Youth Leadership Network, a national youth
empowerment entity, and as an ex officio/mentor with the
National Council on Disability’s Youth
Advisory Council.

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Other articles in the Jane Pauley issue include Letter From The Editor, Gillian Friedman, MD; Humor: Whats up Doc?; Headlines: MS Cruise, Breast Cancer & Court Ruling; Michael Rogers-A Journey of Self-Discovery; Butterfly Power: Native American Healing; Bipolar Disorder: Standup Comed Showcase: Sixth Annual Event; World Ability Federation; Events and Conferences... subscribe!

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Jane Pauley: Interview by Chet Cooper and Dr. Gillian Friedman

Life Rolls On: Surfer Jesse Billauer

Harriet McBryde Johnson: Civil Rights Activist

Americans with Disabilities Act: 15 Years

Senator Harkin: Setting Our People Free

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