Florida's Independent Living Centers: Why You Should Connect with One
If you ever feel like your support system is lacking and you have a spinal cord injury, there is a widespread organization that is completely free of charge that can help - Florida's independent living centers (FILC). Funded federally, as well as by the state and private donors, independent living centers were created over 40 years ago to provide information and assistance to people with disabilities to help them be as independent as possible in their community.
In 1976, Central Florida disability advocates were the first ones to organize and create Florida's first independent living center. It was in Winter Park, with the location still there today. The founder of this independent living center was Beverly Chapman, one of Florida's original spinal cord injured advocates. She was Ms. Wheelchair America in 1977 and worked with legislators in 1988 to implement Florida's first prepaid toll system for people with disabilities.
Since the inception of FILCs, there are now fifteen across the state with each one providing an array of life-changing, free services to people with disabilities of all ages. Each service in some way helps people with disabilities be as independent as possible. All of the independent living centers in Florida are represented by the Florida Association of Centers for Independent Living, an advocacy and support organization.
How They Operate
Independent living centers in Florida are set up two ways depending on its population. They either serve a single county or a grouping of counties. With independent living centers in every region of the state, people with disabilities do not have to travel far to get what can be life-changing information.
Also, many independent living centers in Florida are staffed by people disabilities, with over 51% having a disability. They have paid staff as well as a board that works together to help their clients live, work and enjoy their community just like anyone else. And their work is far-reaching. In 2018, Florida's centers for independent living centers served over 17,000 people with disabilities in total.
A law in 1973 passed by the Supreme Court called the ‘Rehabilitation Act’ is what helps fund independent living centers across the country. Community grants help pay for many of their services as well. Independent living centers in Florida are under the authority of the Florida Division of Vocational Rehabilitation to get funding, which means it serves as a pre-employment readiness component.
Services They Provide
There is a vast number of services a person with a disability or spinal cord injury can receive from a Florida independent living center. From the driver’s training readiness to learning how to find caregivers once you return home, they can help you with a variety of things. Here's a list of the five core services you can receive from an independent living center in Florida:
- Peer to peer support: Peer support can be greatly beneficial when dealing with any kind of disability. FILCs can also help you find a mentor or a disability support group.
- Information and referral: They will help you find any information you may need about living independently with a disability, from transitioning into college after high school graduation or seeking accessible transportation if you are a senior.
- Advocacy: They can help train you to be the best advocate possible. They also train people with disabilities on the roles and responsibilities of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Independent living skills training: They assist with money management, goal setting, transportation, finding and using assistive technology, employment readiness, and even social skills training.
- Transition assistance: If you are transitioning home from a nursing home or a hospital into the community, they can help make the transition as smooth as possible. They can also help you transition into post-secondary education or employment.
If you have any further questions about what services you can receive from an independent living center in Florida, contact the Florida Association of Centers for Independent Living. They also provide an extensive list of links for nearly any type of disability service you may need in Florida. You can access this list here: https://www.floridacils.org/resources
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