Young people talk about independent living
Watch video larger
Opens in new window



Group of young people Girl with headphonesYoung woman in job interview

Living on Your Own

Every day comes with choices. You may decide what to have for lunch, the people you want to hang out with after school, or what XBOX game to play next. As you get older, those choices get bigger, like where you want to live, what job you want, and who you want to be. Up to this point many choices about the direction of your life have been made by your parent or guardian. As you get closer to becoming an adult, it is important to set goals for yourself so that you can live an independent life. You might feel anxious or scared about taking more control over your life and that’s okay. If you have a disability or special health care need, there are resources out there that can help you live a fulfilling life and be successful. By learning more about who you are and what you want, you can create the life you imagine for yourself because Talent Knows No Limits!

As a person with a disability you have more opportunities than you might think. People with disabilities are living in their own homes, graduating from college, working at good jobs, getting married, and having children. This is due in large part to laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. But this did not happen overnight. There was a time when people with disabilities did not have the opportunities that exist now. It took a movement of mostly young people (like you!) with disabilities to change society’s perception of people with disabilities and to pass laws that make your independence possible.

One example of a young person with a disability who changed the world is Ed Roberts. When Ed was a child he contracted polio, which was a very common disease in the 1950s. Ed used a wheelchair and also spent a large part of his life in an iron lung, which was a machine that helped him breathe. Despite his physical challenges, Ed excelled in school and dreamed of attending UC Berkeley for college. However, when Ed applied to the university he was told that because of the severity of his disability the university did not want him there. Ed fought this and won. When Ed saw how inaccessible the university was to students with disabilities he decided to change things. He and a few other students in wheelchairs formed a group called The Rolling Quads and started the very first Disabled Student Services Program (DSPS) on a college campus. Today almost every college and university in the country has a disabled student services program and they help with things like personal care attendant referral, getting in-class accommodations, and finding accessible housing on or around campus. To locate the DSPS office of a college or university you are interested in, click the Student Services link on their homepage.

After Ed and the other Rolling Quads created the Disabled Student Services Program, they realized that the community surrounding the Berkeley campus was not very welcoming and accessible to people with disabilities either. There were no curb cuts and the buses were not equipped with lifts. Also, many residents with disabilities struggled to live in their own homes because they could not find an attendant to help them with their basic living needs like bathing and dressing. In response, Ed and his friends founded the Berkeley Center for Independent Living in 1973. The purpose of the center was to be a resource for people with disabilities in the community. Today there are 29 centers for independent living (CIL’s) in the state of California. CIL’s provide six core services: information and referral, peer support, advocacy, independent living skills training, personal attendant referral, and housing assistance (to find the CIL near you, visit

Ed’s story is not unlike your story. Most of you have had to face barriers and challenges to get where you are today. For example, you may have had difficulty getting the accommodations you needed in school, or maybe someone told you that you would not be able to achieve your goals because you have a disability. But you got through those times with the help of others, such as your parents or supportive teachers. You will no doubt face difficult times on your way to becoming an adult, but you do not have to go through that alone. Independence does not mean you know all the answers or do everything yourself; it means seeking out resources to reach your goals and being in control of how you use them.

Entering into Independence will be much easier if you have an idea about some of the struggles and achievements of persons with disabilities who have come before you. Check out this interactive timeline which will give you a background on the Disability Rights movement and highlight some of the major accomplishments made throughout our history:

Next: Living With a Disability Go to next page