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Listos California Partner Spotlight – The Center for Independent Living

A woman in a wheelchair looking at a wheel of fortune.
A woman in a wheelchair looking at a wheel of fortune.

Listos California Partner Spotlight – The Center for Independent Living

The first organization of its kind in the country, the Center for Independent Living (CIL) in Berkeley has worked to build resilience in older adults and members of the cross-disability community since it was founded in 1972. Their peer-based services are so successful that CIL served as a model for what is now about 400 independent living centers nationwide.

As a Listos California partner, CIL’s Emergency Preparedness and Resiliency programming supports individual and community resilience and provides readiness planning to prepare for disaster recovery and power outages. The peer-led program focuses on areas often left out of traditional emergency response conversations, like accessibility, assistive technology and mobility devices, and accessing critical community resources for disabled people and older adults.

Disaster Ready Guides and preparedness tips are integrated into everyday interactions at CIL. A staff member working with someone to get their wheelchair serviced will bring up the importance of having a back-up battery in a disaster. Preparedness planning is discussed during an intake appointment with a new client. Building disaster resilience is included as part of the larger conversation that keeps client-driven goals and needs central to the services provided.

A group of people in wheelchairs in a room.

CIL acknowledges the importance of having peer-to-peer conversations about emergency preparedness and response in an inaccessible world.

When talking with their community about preparedness, CIL elicits any creative ideas people may have come up with, recognizing the wisdom people with disabilities develop and apply every day in response to living in an inaccessible world. CIL’s philosophy holds that each individual knows best what will work for them in any situation, which ultimately serves to enhance confidence and resilience in their participants.

Preparedness training has been very well-received by the communities CIL serves. “Serving people with lots of different kinds of disabilities, bringing people together to focus on emergency and disaster readiness, we hear people’s awe and gratitude—and almost always—‘it’s about time we were doing this,’” Community Engagement Program Manager Emma Martin said. “There’s great value in talking about emergency preparedness with other people with disabilities who share some of the lived experiences, to be able to have honest, open, vulnerable conversations about access, about our fears and our hopes. It feels different when you are talking within your community and are able to open up about how scary it is when the elevators go down and share the ideas and hacks that we all come up with on our own.”

Through Listos California, CIL was able to purchase resources designed to help individuals with a disability during disasters and power outages, allowing them to show participants the range of tools available for increased preparedness. One example is the recently acquired stairway evacuation chair, which they demonstrate in their training with members of the cross-disability community and their caregivers. CIL staff plan to advocate for affordable housing units in their service area to purchase these assistive devices to ensure all residents can be evacuated when needed.

CIL recently announced its Peer Ambassador Training, which is made possible by Listos California funding. The first cohort of this new six-month program includes 10 people with disabilities and an interest in disaster preparedness. After completing a two-month training phase, each Peer Ambassador will go on to develop their own unique disaster preparedness project which they will take back to their communities to continue the spread of critical disaster preparedness and resilience education. There is already a waiting list for the next cohort.

“The model of empowering and training peer trainers is at the root of most successful grassroots movements. It is so important that we learn from each other,” Emergency Preparedness Outreach and Training Coordinator Henry Maeko said.

A man in a wheelchair at a table at an outdoor event.

Ensuring that the voices of members of the cross-disability community are heard and uplifted is central to the mission of the Center for Independent Living.

As it has since its founding over 50 years ago, the Center for Independent Living continually uplifts the voices of the people they serve through their “by disabled people for disabled people” staffing model, their peer-centered programming, and the advocacy efforts and initiatives that are so central to their mission.

“The voices of people with disabilities must be in the room where planning is taking place,” Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Sheela Gunn-Cushman said.

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