What Independent Living Means

“Independent Living is not doing things by yourself. It is being in charge of how things are done.”
~Judy Heumann

A Way of Life

Independent Living is a philosophy and a way of life. It is a movement of people with disabilities who work for self-determination, equal opportunities and self-respect. The Independent Living philosophy says that every person, regardless of disability, has the potential and the right to exercise individual self-determination. We expect the same choices and control in our everyday lives that everyone else takes for granted. We want the same freedom to try, and fail, and learn from our failures. We want to grow up in our families, go to the neighborhood school, use the same bus as our neighbors, work in jobs that are in line with our education and abilities, start families of our own. We need to be in charge of our lives, to think and speak for ourselves. We need to support and learn from each other. We must organize ourselves and work for political changes that lead to the legal protection of our human and civil rights. (Adapted from Adolf Ratzka, Independent Living Institute)


signing of americans with disabilities act

Americans with Disabilities Act – July 26, 1990


“…to tear down the shameful walls of discrimination that segregate and isolate Americans with disabilities…”
~ George H. W. Bush


Our Core Values

The core values embraced by Centers for Independent Living include… 

  • Cross disability… which means people with all disabilities and of all ages are included. While the daily details of our disabilities are different, we are all experiencing the same societal barriers and oppression. 
  • Consumer control… which means that the individual with a disability must be able to make his or her own choices, and to be in charge of his or her own life. Consumer control also means that the organizations best suited to assist us are not run by parents, social workers, or medical people, but by us, people who have disabilities. 
  • Self-help and peer support… which means that people learn and grow by discussing their needs, concerns and issues with people who have had similar experiences. 
  • Equal access to society… which means that as barriers are removed and legal rights are honored, society in its broadest sense appreciates and includes people with disabilities in education, employment, housing, recreation, transportation, and all other forms of public and private

we are not the problem. Th problem is the way society interacts with us

The biggest barrier to people who have disabilities is people who don’t.


Our Core Values

The Independent Living (IL) philosophy is very different from the traditional rehabilitation model. The IL philosophy includes the core values discussed above. Its goals for individuals with disabilities are empowerment and self-determination. Its goals for communities are achieving equal access through reducing and removing barriers. The outcome we want is self-determination and full community participation for persons with all disabilities. 

The traditional, medical model focuses on what is wrong with the person with a disability, and making efforts to “fix what is broken.” In our philosophy, a person with a disability is someone identified as having one or more impairment(s) who has limited choices regarding participation in community life. These choices are limited because of community barriers, low expectations from ourselves and our communities, stigma, prejudice, and discrimination. Participation in community life includes getting an education, working, living independently, shopping, worshipping, using public transportation, and political activities. Societal barriers, not the disability itself, are the major reason many people with disabilities have problems living independently. Centers for Independent Living do not “rehabilitate” the person, but instead focus on reducing and removing the barriers that limit our choices.

For more information on IL philosophy and history, see: 



SWCI’s Mission

People with disabilities providing supports and training for the disability and elder communities to live well in southwest Colorado.

    SWCI’s Vision

    We envision a world where people with disabilities and those who are aging are respected and included members of their communities, making their own decisions, directing the supports and services they need to live well in the community, and giving back to the community from their strengths.

      Ed Roberts & Judith Heumann

      Ed Roberts & Judith Heumann


      Our Organization

      southwest counitees

      Southwest Center for Independence (SWCI) was established as a Center for Independent Living (CIL) in 1990 by the Independent Living Coordinator for the Colorado Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and a small group of La Plata County residents with disabilities who were interested in the independent living movement.  Southwest Center for Independence is an independent community-based 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.  We serve people with disabilities residing in Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma, and San Juan Counties in Southwest Colorado.


        Colorado CILs

        The nine Colorado CILs are certified and funded through the Colorado Office of Independent Living.  You can find contact information for all the CILs in the state here.

        Additionally, every state has a Statewide Independent Living Council or “SILC,” whose primary function is to advance independent living through the development and implementation of a three-year State Plan for Independent Living, commonly referred to as the “SPIL.”  SILCs were established under Title VII of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, and in Colorado SILC members are appointed by the governor.  See the most current SPIL here.

          Colorado Map