About MCIL

Independent Living

Historically people with disabilities have been marginalized in our society, either cared for by families or segregated into charities, facilities and institutions. The Disability Rights movement and Independent Living have struggled to include people with disabilities in all aspects of civic life. But barriers remain in physical accommodations, communication and attitudes. Today, Centers for Independent Living such as MCIL offer comprehensive Independent Living Programs that provide people with disabilities with the advocacy, training, resources and peer support needed to live independently.

More about Independent Living and programs at MCIL.

Find out about the Grey Panthers.

The MCIL Journal

The Blog for MCIL. Keep up with issues that impact the disability community and Memphis. You may respond and add your voice to the the Memphis Center for Independent Living Journal. Be a part of the discussion and let others know how you feel about important topics. A link to the Memphis Center for Independent Living Blog.

Contact MCIL

The Memphis Center for Independent Living

MEMPHIS TN 38111-4640

(901) 726-6404


Meet the MCIL Staff

People at MCIL Celebrate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The concept of Independent Living grew out of the Civil Rights Movement.

Independent Living not only means equal rights, but also equal responsibility for citizens. Independence implies managing success as well as coping with failure. Many services, programs, charities, organizations and agencies in our community encourage dependency of people with disabilities and remove the risk of failure. The cycle of dependency, paternalism and control removes the common choices of individuals. Ultimately, only by taking similar risks can people with disabilities equally participate in the community.

Centers for Independent Living such as MCIL offer comprehensive Independent Living Programs that provide people with disabilities with the advocacy, training, resources and peer support needed to live independently or transition to independent living. Independent living is a philosophy, a way of looking at society and disability, and a worldwide movement of people with disabilities working for equal opportunities, self-determination, and self-respect.

MCIL offers a new model for community integration.

Since 1985 MCIL has been the center of a network of action, information, and resources to assist people with disabilities to conquer the barriers, overcome isolation and end dependency of people with disabilities. We encourage people with disabilities to work with us to build a new accessible welcoming community, learn from neighbors or teach fellow citizens that are struggling for their independence.


The Independent Living philosophy postulates that people with disabilities are the best experts on our needs, and therefore we must take the initiative, individually and collectively. People with disabilities must design and promote solutions and must organize for political power. Besides de-professionalization and self-representation, the Independent Living ideology comprises de-medicalization of disability, de-institutionalization and cross-disability (i.e. inclusion in the IL Movement regardless of diagnoses).

MCIL's goal is an integrated community that equally welcomes all members.

The Memphis Center for Independent Living works so that people with disabilities in the Memphis area may live independently. We believe that there is nothing more disabling than pity.

People with disabilities are a powerful and significant part of our community, yet; as a group our social roles have been marginalized by bigotry, discrimination, poverty, isolation, dependency and pity. Americans with disabilities have not had access to transportation, housing and employment that other citizens have enjoyed; MCIL will change that.

The Independent Living Movement grew out of the Disability Rights Movement, which began in the 1960s. The IL Movement works at replacing the special education and rehabilitation experts’ concepts of integration, normalization and rehabilitation with a new paradigm developed by people with disabilities themselves. The first Independent Living ideologists and organizers were people with extensive disabilities (e.g., Ed Roberts, Judith Heumann, Peg Nosek, Lex Frieden) and of course, early friends and collaborators in the 1970s (Julie Ann Racino) and university and government supporters throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Ed Roberts became a large part of the IL Movement after he contracted polio as a child. As a person with a disability, he dealt with discrimination in many different aspects of his life. In day-to-day life, people made comments that alluded to the fact that it may have been better if the polio had ended up killing him and he was told by others that they would rather be dead than be like him.

His fight for acceptance in schools, however, is what Roberts is most well known for. In high school, Roberts was stopped from graduating because he could not complete his gym requirement, as he was paralyzed and spent most of his time in an iron lung. His biggest issue when it came to the school systems occurred at UC Berkeley. After struggling to get accepted, the university refused to give Roberts financial aid. He then sued Berkeley for access and integration. Although he won the case, Roberts was housed in school’s infirmary instead of the dormitories.

As others with disabilities started attending the school and living in the infirmary, an activist group called the Rolling Quads was formed. They ended up starting the Disabled Students’ Program, a resource for those with disabilities that was run by people with disabilities. This program led to the first independent living center in America being made, the Berkeley Center for Independent Living. These centers flourished across the United States and are a huge part of why Ed Roberts was so instrumental in the start of the Independent Living Movement.

MCIL hosts the ADA Legacy Tour 2014

The Memphis Center for Independent Living hosts the ADA Legacy Tour 2014

Memphis activists march in support of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.

Ending the old "Medical Model" of disability

The medical view of disability contributes to negative attitudes towards people with disabilities. The medical model portrays us as sick and defective as persons. People with disabilities become objects of professional intervention to the large and powerful health care industry and are often seen as a commodity to the insurance corporations and health-care professionals. The medical model can stigmatize disability as a burden to individuals and their families and lead to dependency on charity. This image limits people with disabilities opportunities for raising families of their own, getting education and work. The result is we face discrimination at all aspects of civic life and persons with disabilities make up a large portion of the poor in the US.

The social model of disability is a reaction to the dominant medical model of disability which in itself is a functional analysis of the body as machine to be fixed in order to conform with normative values. The social model of disability identifies systemic barriers, negative attitudes and exclusion by society (purposely or inadvertently) that mean society is the main contributory factor in disabling people. While physical, sensory, intellectual, or psychological variations may cause individual functional limitation or impairments, these do not have to lead to disability unless society fails to take account of and include people regardless of their individual differences.

The social model of disability suggests disability is caused by the way society is organized, rather than by a person’s impairment. This model suggests barriers in society are created by ableism. When barriers are removed, people with disabilities can be independent and equal in society.

There are three main types of barriers:

  1. Attitudinal barriers: are created by people who see only disability when associating with people with disabilities in some way. These attitudinal barriers can be witnessed through bullying, discrimination, and fear. These barriers include low expectations of people with disabilities. These barriers contribute to all other barriers. Attitudes towards people with disabilities in low and middle-income countries can be even more extreme.

  2. Environmental barriers: inaccessible environments, natural or built, create disability by creating barriers to inclusion.

  3. Institutional barriers: include many laws, policies, practices, or strategies that discriminate against people with disabilities. For example, a study of five Southeast Asian countries found that electoral laws do not specially protect the political rights of persons with disabilities, while some banks do not allow visually disabled people to open accounts, and HIV testing centers often refuse to accept sign language interpreters due to confidentiality policies. Restrictive laws exist in some countries, particularly affecting people with intellectual or psychological disabilities.

In 1972, the first Center for Independent Living was founded by disability activists, led by Ed Roberts, in Berkeley, California. These Centers were created to offer peer support and role modeling, and are run and controlled by persons with disabilities. According to the IL approach, the example of a peer, somebody who has been in a similar situation, can be more powerful than a non-disabled professional's interventions in analyzing one’s situation, in assuming responsibility for one’s life and in developing coping strategies.

According to the IL Movement, with peer support, everyone can learn to take more initiative and control over their lives. For example, peer support is used in Independent Living Skills classes where people living with their families or in institutions learn how to run their everyday lives in preparation for living by themselves.

The Architectural Barriers Act was passed in 1968, mandating that federally constructed buildings and facilities be accessible to people with physical disabilities. This act is generally considered to be the first ever-federal disability rights legislation. In 1973 the (American) Rehabilitation Act became law; Sections 501, 503, and 504 prohibited discrimination in federal programs and services and all other programs or services receiving federal funds. Key language in the Rehabilitation Act, found in Section 504, states “No otherwise qualified disabled individual in the United States, shall, solely by reason of their disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Another crucial turning point was the 504 Sit-in in 1977 of government buildings operated by the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), conceived by Frank Bowe and organized by the American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities. The sit-in led to the release of regulations pursuant to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

activists take over Tennessee Senator's office in Memphis></a></div>  <br>  <i>Other barriers include:</i> internalized  barriers (low expectations of people with disabilities can undermine  their confidence and aspirations), inadequate data and statistics, lack  of participation and consultation of disabled people</span></li>   </div>   <div style=

On April 5, 1977, activists began to demonstrate and some sat-in in the offices found in ten of the federal regions including New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, Denver, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. The two most noteworthy protests occurred in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. The protesters demanded the signing of regulations for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

There were about 300 people in Washington, D.C. who marched to and demonstrated at Secretary Joseph Califano’s office inside the HEW building. Secretary Califano was the person who was to sign the regulations, but was delaying the process. Although he met with a few protest representatives, including Frank Bowe, he still did not sign.

This action led many protesters to continue their sit-in overnight. The more successful sit-in occurred in San Francisco, led by Judith Heumann. The first day of protests marked the first of a 25-day sit-in. Close to 120 disability activists and protesters occupied the HEW building. Califano finally signed on April 28, 1977.

The HEW protest was significant not only because its goal was achieved, but also because it was the foremost concerted effort between people of different disabilities coming together in support of legislation that affected the overall disability population, rather than only specific groups.

In 1978 disability rights activists in Denver, Colorado, organized by the Atlantis Community. In July of 1978, they held a sit-in and blockade of the Denver Regional Transit Authority buses. Let by Wade Blank, the group was protesting the fact that the Denver area transit system was completely inaccessible for the physically disabled. This action proved to be just the first in a series of civil disobedience demonstrations that lasted for a year until the Regional Transit Authority finally bought buses equipped with wheelchair lifts.

In 1983, Americans Disabled for Accessible Public Transit (ADAPT) began a nationwide civil-disobedience campaign modeled on the Civil-Rights Movement and the Denver action. Led by people with disabilities, ADAPT traveled around the US and Canada to confront the discrimination in transportation. Mainly targeting the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), ADAPT demanded equality for people with disabilities.

Another significant protest related to disability rights was the Deaf President Now protest by the Gallaudet University students in Washington, D.C. in March 1988. The 8-day (March 6 – March 13) demonstration and occupation and lock-out of the school began when the Board of Trustees appointed a new hearing President, over two Deaf candidates. The students’ primary grievance was that the university, which was dedicated to the education of people who are Deaf, had never had a Deaf president.

Of the protesters’ four demands, the main one was the resignation of the current president and the appointment of a Deaf President. The demonstration consisted of about 2,000 student and non-student participants. The protests took place on campus, in government buildings, and in the streets. In the end, all the students’ demands were met and I. King Jordan was appointed the first Deaf President of the university.

In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act became law, and it provided comprehensive civil rights protection for people with disabilities. Closely modeled after the Civil Rights Act and Section 504, the law was the most sweeping disability rights legislation in American history. It mandated that local, state, and federal governments and programs be accessible, that employers with more than 15 employees make “reasonable accommodations” for workers with disabilities and not discriminate against otherwise qualified workers with disabilities, and that public accommodations such as restaurants and stores not discriminate against people with disabilities and that they make reasonable modifications to ensure access for disabled members of the public. The act also mandated access in public transportation, communication, and in other areas of public life.

MCIL photo slideshow of the 24th Anniversary Celebration of the ADA.

The MCIL Federal 2017 Program Performance Report.

The MCIL Documents Page.

The MCIL Independent Living Toolbox