In the context of the disability conversation, when the term “independence” comes up, it is only logical to ask: “What is Independence?”.
I have been involved in independent living as a person with a disability for the past decade (currently as Chairperson of the Michigan Statewide Independent Living Council) and I have had trouble with what to say when asked this question. In fact, what “he” says or “she” says, “they” say or “the doctor” says cannot define independence. The only thing that truly defines it is how YOU define independence for yourself.
Independence is not one size fits all.
Check out this video, made by a Center for Independent Living (they exist in all 50 states, as well as places all over the world. Click here to find the one closest to you!). This video highlights people with a variety of disabilities who have chosen to pursue what determines independence for them.
Since we have established that independence is defined by the individual whose life it speaks to, let us discuss the shared truths and barriers for people with disabilities in pursuing the independent life that they choose.
What do we do when choice doesn’t always seem to be an option? Whether the barrier be as solid as a set of stairs where no elevator exists, as conceptual as society’s ideas about someone who thinks differently, or as limiting as an employer’s fears about an applicant who doesn’t communicate typically, choice can be in short supply for people with disabilities.
The Father of the Independent Living Movement in the United States was Ed Roberts who, along with several other activists, refused to let the barriers in society, education and institutions keep him from the life that he wanted. More so, he began to pave the way to ensure choice and opportunity for people with all types of disabilities everywhere (a movement that still continues!)
This legislative change has been invaluable to the progress across the nation for accessibility to choice and opportunity for individuals with disabilities. It is important in the pursuit of independence to know your rights and how the system is meant to work. Independent living should always follow the self-determination of the individual whose life it effects, but knowing how laws and programs work can help us put feet to the goals that we make for ourselves!
Instilling a sense of independence of choice is of importance in every 4th Wall workshop! That is why every class is centered around the unique skills and choices that our students make about how they want to express themselves. Theatre, in general, is all about choices. 4th Wall is making sure that the opportunity of theatre is a choice for ALL abilities!