The Center for Independent Living (CIL) was founded 50 years ago by and for people with disabilities to secure the rights, accommodations and resources needed to live and be supported in their/our communities. Over the past 50 years, the staff and board, most of whom have disabilities, are strongly committed to supporting others in their efforts towards self-sufficiency. CIL is the first independent living center in the country. Our work was so successful that today it serves as a model for 400 independent living centers nationwide and in 20 countries.
Founded on the principle that people with disabilities are entitled to the same civil rights, options, and control over choices in their lives as people without disabilities, the CIL has provides support, resources, referrals and advocacy that keep people with diverse disabilities, in their communities and out of institutions and off of the streets for over five decades. CIL has and continues to lead advocacy efforts that reflect this commitment, starting with the role of our founders in the passing of the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA.
CIL emerged from the nascent independent living movement and the earlier Physically Disabled Students Program (PDSP) at the University of California, Berkeley. From 1962-1969, PDSP was a group of severely disabled college students who lived together in Cowell Hospital on the campus. Activists such as Ed Roberts, Hale Zukas, and Jan McEwan Brown joined forces to lead a movement that made the university’s entire academic and social life accessible to all.
Both disabled students and disabled members of the local community saw the great need to continue the philosophy and spirit and advocacy of living as independently as possible. As activist Phil Draper said: “We wanted to be able to control our own destinies-like the philosophies that propelled the civil rights and the women’s movement…You can’t provide independent living services without advocating for social change.”
Then in 1972, these students and community members joined to form the Center for Independent Living (CIL). The CIL’s founding philosophy was based on the principles of PDSP:
- Those who knew best the needs of people with disabilities were people with disabilities themselves.
- The needs of people with disabilities can be most effectively met by comprehensive programs which provide a wide variety of services.
- People with disabilities should be integrated as fully as possible within their community.
From 1975 to 2011, CIL’s headquarters was near the UC Berkeley campus on 2539 Telegraph Avenue. There, we provided services for people with disabilities that included wheelchair repair, assistance finding accessible and affordable housing, and vocational training. CIL also hosted the first national conference on independent living in 1975. In 2010, CIL moved into the new universally designed Ed Roberts Campus across from Ashby BART that continues to serve as a disability services, programs, advocacy and community hub along with several other disability groups that spun off of the CIL as well as state and local disability offices.
1960s to 1970
During this site’s earlier years, it was a miniature golf course, which was replaced by a grocery store building ca. 1941. The building was later converted into a car dealership and repair shop, and then ultimately remodeled to become the CIL headquarters in 1975.
Ed Roberts became the first severely disabled student to attend UC Berkeley. He and other disabled students formed UC Berkeley’s first disabled students group, the Rolling Quads (later renamed the Disabled Students’ Union).
The CIL was founded in Berkeley as an outgrowth of UC Berkeley’s Physically Disabled Students Program (now called the Disabled Students’ Program). The CIL became the center of the emerging independent living movement, based on the fundamental principle that people with disabilities are entitled to the same civil rights, options, and control over choices in their lives as people without disabilities. Among the more visible local impacts of the CIL was the implementation of the curb cut program in Berkeley in the early 1970s, the first such program in the country.
Through strong activism, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 became law and led the way to securing equal opportunities and equal rights for people with disabilities.
The CIL moved to this site and made it their new headquarters. It provided services for disabled people, including wheelchair repair, assistance finding accessible and affordable housing, and vocational training. The CIL also hosted the first national conference on independent living in 1975.
The CIL organized a 26-day sit-in at the San Francisco offices of the Federal Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, which eventually led to the passing of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Section 504 paved the way for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that passed in 1990. The CIL reportedly organized the West Coast testimony in support of the ADA.
Ed Roberts was an important lifetime advocate of disability rights. He died in 1995 at the age of 56. To memorialize his passing, the Ed Roberts Campus (ERC) was constructed at the Ashby BART Station in Berkeley. ERC houses a transit-oriented independent living center and the relocated CIL headquarters. In the 40 years since the CIL became the first disability advocacy group organized and operated by persons with disabilities, over 400 independent living centers have been established nationwide. A variety of other Berkeley-based organizations grew out of the CIL, including Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, World Institute on Disability, Computer Technologies Program, and Bay Area Outreach & Recreation Program.
Following the CIL’s move to ERC, its longtime headquarters at this site on Telegraph Avenue was demolished to make way for the current building.
Center for Independent Living closes out 2023 with a fresh rebrand and a continued commitment to facilitating the improvement of lives in our community.