As a statewide organization, Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation (PATF) has developed a great network of people who help us stay in touch with those who live in every corner of Pennsylvania. We call these wonderful professionals and their organizations Funding Assistance Centers (FACs). They help with everything from spreading the word about PATF at conferences, presentations and workshops, to assisting individuals who contact us to identify funding resources for their assistive technology and supporting our borrowers throughout the application process.
One such organization is the Lehigh Valley Center for Independent Living (LVCIL). Rebecca Strobel and Seth Hoderewski are our primary contacts there (regular readers may remember Rebecca from two of her past guest blog articles, Adaptive Sports Provide a Lifetime of Competition and Community and Working, Hunting and Fishing with an All-Terrain Wheelchair.) We have also just recently welcomed Amy Beck, LVCIL Executive Director, to our board! We look forward to adding her expertise and wealth of experience to our group.
Curious what Centers for Independent Living (CILs) are all about? And specifically LVCIL? Here’s what Rebecca wrote when we asked her:
“Independent living is not doing things by yourself. It is being in control of how things are done.” This quote from Judith Heumann, one of several extraordinary leaders and advocates behind the disability rights movement, encompasses the guiding philosophy behind Centers for Independent Living (CIL). Ed Roberts, known to many as the Father of Independent Living, founded the first CIL in Berkley, CA in 1972. The CIL was guided by the philosophy of consumer control and the idea that people with disabilities should be receiving support from other people with disabilities.
Accordingly, 51% of all CIL staff and board members are individuals living with a disability. The core services offered at CILs in every area include information and referral, independent living skills, peer support, transition, and advocacy on an individual and systems level. Since the 1970s, CILs have continued to develop across the country to challenge social injustice and enhance community access for people with disabilities.
Located in Allentown, PA the Lehigh Valley Center for Independent Living (LVCIL) is one of 18 CILs in the Commonwealth of PA. LVCIL was founded in 1990 through the efforts of Lehigh Valley activist Carl Odhner and an advocacy group called Operation Overcome which worked to increase awareness of accessibility issues in the Lehigh Valley. In addition to the core services, LVCIL provides an array of programs to individuals and families residing in Lehigh and Northampton counties. These include but are not limited to: employment and transition services, housing support, services for veterans, waiver supports coordination, sign language interpreter services and accessibility surveys and trainings.
LVCIL has recently expanded its specialized vocational services through the Career Path and Pre-Employment Transition Experiences (TEP) programs. These programs provide opportunities for high school students and graduates who are involved with OVR to receive support related to vocational opportunities. Services include career skills training that prepare participants for employment, a job assessment and development phase which involves exploring career options, and job coaching and follow along once participants are gainfully employed. LVCIL also provides transition services for young adults with disabilities which encompass everything from social and vocational experiences to independent living skills and learning about self-advocacy.
Another service unique to LVCIL is their housing search and support services for individuals and families who are homeless or near homeless. Community Support Coordinators work with individuals and families to assess their needs and provide information on housing options that meet these needs. A housing stability plan is developed and consumers are supported in the process of obtaining stable housing. Additionally, LVCIL has a Supportive Services for Veterans and their Families (SSVF) program that offers financial assistance and case management services for qualifying veterans and their household members who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. LVCIL is currently only one of two CILs to provide this service for veterans.
For many people with disabilities, having support in the home to complete activities of daily living is what makes independent living possible! Individuals who qualify for home and community based services, specifically the PA Adult Autism Waiver and waivers from the Office of Long Term Living (OLTL) can choose LVCIL as their supports coordination agency. Supports coordinators are responsible for supporting waiver participants in managing their plan as well as ensuring effective and efficient service provision.
Sometimes a barrier to independent living can be something much simpler. LVCIL recognizes the importance of access for people with disabilities in all areas, including access to communication. Sign language interpreter referral services (SLIRS) are offered through LVCIL 24 hours, 7 days a week to provide consumers who are deaf, hard of hearing, or deaf/blind that use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate with easy access to interpreters for scheduled appointments and/or emergency situations. Counties of service expand beyond Lehigh and Northampton counties to include Carbon, Monroe, Bucks, Pike, Luzerne, Berks, Schuylkill, and Montgomery counties.
While communication is important to community inclusion, so is the ability to physically access areas within a community. Increasing accessibility and creating community awareness about the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) are important components of CILs nationwide. At LVCIL, this goal is achieved through programs offered by LVCIL’s statewide Community Accessibility Program (CAP). CAP staff specialize in ADA site surveys and can provide trainings on a variety of topics related to the ADA. Beyond the business world, CAP has worked with recreational organizations like the Lehigh Valley Zoo and Hawk Mountain to increase accessibility for consumers with a disability.
By offering a variety of services and empowering consumers to take control of their services, LVCIL supports peoples with disabilities and their families in achieving independence in all areas of their lives. The underlying principles of consumer control and the core services are engrained in every aspect of CIL programming and are demonstrated in the holistic approach through which services are provided. There are several instances where LVCIL consumers are enrolled in multiple programs to enhance their independence in different areas of their lives! To learn more about CILs, or to find a CIL in your area, check out the website for the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL): http://www.ncil.org/.
Check out this disability awareness video that LVCIL created:
And, stay tuned for future articles throughout 2017 where we will introduce each of our FACs and help you get to know their organizations.