Lane Independent Living Alliance (LILA) grew out of an important historical movement. Throughout time, people with disabilities have faced many barriers to fulfilling their potential. Society has often looked down on them, attempted to shut them away, designed structures and spaces that served only able-bodied people, and assumed those with disabilities couldn’t make decisions for themselves.
Following the model of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, people with disabilities began to organize. They developed a philosophy that said people with disabilities deserve to live with as much choice, access and inclusion as possible. Their efforts became known as the Independent Living Movement.
A popular rallying cry of the IL Movement was and is “Nothing for us without us!” Too often, services for persons with disabilities were developed and administered by the able-bodied. Service providers often saw consumers as “the needy” rather than peers with the potential to be self-sufficient. What was missing were service organizations run by and for people with disabilities, where peers and role models could show the way to a more independent and fulfilling life.
The IL Movement achieved a major step towards this goal with the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The Act provided a framework for the creation of Centers for Independent Living (CILs). A CIL is a private non-profit organization that assists people with disabilities to gain independence, access and inclusion in society. For an organization to be a certified CIL, a majority of their staff and board must be people with disabilities. Through persistent effort, the IL Movement gained other victories, such as the passage of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). At a local level, CILs began springing up in hundreds of communities across the nation.
In 2001, a small group of Lane County residents with disabilities began meeting to discuss forming a Lane County CIL. With the help of St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County, LILA secured some initial seed funding from the state. In 2002, LILA achieved official certification as a CIL and opened up an office in the Atrium building in downtown Eugene. We got busy providing free information and referral to consumers in need of disability-related services. A partnership was developed with the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (OVRS) to provide peer mentoring to job seekers with disabilities. Leadership trainings were offered. We provided input to state government in making voting more accessible.
We also quickly found ourselves at the center of a local controversy: A sparkling new federal courthouse was being proposed, but without a ramp allowing people in wheelchairs to enter through the front doors with everyone else. Joining with other local advocates and partners such as the Register Guard, LILA was a persistent presence in the debate. Working together, our community made sure the new courthouse has a front entrance accessible to all.
Amazing growth through alliances: Over the years, Lane Independent Living Alliance has assisted thousands of consumers to achieve greater independence, access and inclusion. We have accomplished this by forming many positive working relationships with organizations and individuals. OVRS contracted with LILA to provide employment readiness trainings in Lane County and in the Salem area. In 2006, Lane Workforce Partnership contracted with LILA to be the “Disability Navigator” at our local one-stop employment center. In 2007, LILA became the statewide ADA trainer through a grant from the Northwest ADA Center in Seattle.
2009 and beyond: In partnership with the Northwest ADA Center, LILA began piloting the BluePath program to promote businesses committed to accessibility. Governor Kulongoski recognized our program by proclaiming October 1, 2009 “Blue Path to Accessible Business Day”. Secretary of State Kate Brown traveled to Eugene to join with Mayor Kitty Piercy in helping induct our twenty-one charter BluePath business members. On January 1, 2010, in partnership with Lane County, LILA began operating a new social and learning center for mental health consumers, the LILA Peer Support Club. In 2010, we helped host the state annual disability Megaconference, held that year at the Eugene Hilton Hotel, and continued to do so for a few more years. If you think LILA just doesn’t know when to quit…you’re right!