What is the Center for Independent Living?

What is the Center for Independent Living?Centers for Independent living programs work to support community living and independence for people with disabilities across the nation based on the belief that all people can live with dignity, make their own choices, and participate fully in society. Dr. Tony Delisle and Amy Feutz from The Center for Independent Living of North Central Florida, shares how these programs provide tools, resources, and supports for integrating people with disabilities fully into their communities to promote equal opportunities, self-determination, and respect.


SPEAKERS: Amy Feutz, Tony Delisle

Tony Delisle  00:00

Disability impacts everybody. Disability is a natural part of life. It is exactly what it means to be a human being. This is a space where we can all come together collectively and unite under disability. Welcome to the Independent Life Podcast where we will be introduced to the services, ideas, issues, values, and people who will empower us to become the best version of ourselves imaginable to attain our independent living goals and to be of service to others. I am your host, Dr. Tony Delisle. 2020 has been quite the year I can say that it is been full of obstacles. And so the first quote that I’d like to share with everybody on The Independent Life has to do with obstacles. It comes to us from Marcus Aurelius. “The mind adopts and converts on to its own purposes, the obstacle of our actions, the impediment to our action advances, our action, which stands in the way becomes the way.” I’m not saying that disability is an obstacle. But having a disability certainly presents many obstacles to a socially, environmentally, and in many other ways. Many obstacles are in front of us. But that is the way to advance the actions for all of us to become the better versions of ourselves, and to serve others. This is Tony Delisle, Executive Director for the Center for Independent Living of North Central Florida, inviting you all to The Independent Life podcast. Very excited today. It is our first inaugural episode. And it really has come about through interesting times, here we are. And as 2020 comes to a close, November 3, Election Day, very interesting times that we’re in and to quote, somebody who said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” And here we are, trying something that’s different for us to do better outreach to our community to let them know who we are, and to empower people with disabilities. We are looking to really explore new ground, get outside of our comfort zone and invite you all to listen into us in the comfort of your own home, to learn more about the world of disability and living independently, and I’m joined here today with my colleague, Amy Feutz, who is the Associate Director for our center. 

Amy Feutz  02:43

Hi, everyone. 

Tony Delisle  02:44

It’s a pleasure. Like I couldn’t think of a better person to share this episode with you, Amy. Yeah, we’ve been through a lot together. And we were born on the same day August 4, I’ll withhold the year. So very excited to have a conversation with you, Amy.

Amy Feutz  03:00

Yes, great. We can get started. I think what we’re going to do is just start with the Why. Can you help our listeners better understand why CIL exist? Why is there a need? Why should anyone both with or without a disability care?

Tony Delisle  03:13

Because people with disabilities forms the largest minority group around one in four people in our country has a disability. And when we look at the data, it doesn’t lie. People with disabilities are less likely to graduate high school. 65% graduation rates with people with disabilities compared to around an 87% without disabilities. People with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be unemployed. People with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty. People with disabilities are more likely to live shorter, sicker lies from preventable diseases. Twice as likely to have cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke cancer… People with disabilities are less likely to afford housing, to have accessible housing, less likely to have adequate transportation. People with disabilities have more difficulty being included in everyday life and society, whether it’s due to effective communication, whether it’s a program access, people with disabilities are more likely to be vulnerable during disasters. We live in Florida. So hurricanes, we’re living in the middle of pandemic. People with disabilities are much more likely to be impacted by this pandemic. And so people with disabilities, unfortunately, are more vulnerable in many of these situations here. And so we exist to really empower people with disabilities to live independently and to beat these odds.

Amy Feutz  04:38

When you hear the name, Center for Independent Living, a lot of things about what we do here may come to mind. So what exactly happens here at the CIL?

Tony Delisle  04:47

Well, first of all, what we are not as an assisted living facility, we’re not a residential care facility. We don’t have beds. We are here to empower people to live in the community to whatever extent possible and that manifests in many different services and programs. We’re a nonprofit service agency, we serve 16 counties. Within our catchment area. We serve all disabilities, all ages, our services are free for all people. And so the services are really aligned with the why. People with disabilities are less likely to graduate from high school. So we have a high school high tech program that has a graduation rate of nearly 99%. We have a very robust Employment Services program that works with over 100 people at any one time trying to find meaningful and sustainable employment for them, and working with our business community to debunk many of the myths that are out there regarding hiring people with disabilities. We make sure that people have effective communication by providing sign language interpreting services programs for people. Because affordable housing’s such an issue, we work very hard to get public vouchers for people to get adequate access to homes and then making sure that those homes have access. Whether it’s wheelchair ramps or home modifications are durable medical equipment that might be needed to keep people in their homes, we make sure that we have that as well. Again, transportation being such a huge barrier. We are providing eligibility screenings to see if people are eligible for paratransit services and the type of paratransit services and if they need help navigating the bus systems, we provide some of those as well. We provide independent living skills classes where people can learn how to live healthy lifestyles, where people can come together, and peer support and social isolation and loneliness is a huge thing with people. And this is a place where people with disabilities can be supportive of one another and learn how to advocate for themselves, learn how to communicate, learn how to solve problems, and really come together as a community. And we’re very involved with emergency management. We work with emergency management professionals to educate them on the needs of people with disabilities, and connecting them with the community of people disabilities. We make sure that the shelters are accessible for people. We provide access to the community to get to know our emergency management professionals. Also in the time of COVID, we are distributing food and other resources to people in their homes, because people with disabilities that we serve often don’t have the access to food, to self care products, to disaster supplies, and other types of essential resources that people need during this pandemic. We were able to actually deliver them to people where they actually live in their communities. And it’s a really great opportunity for us to even reach more people throughout our 16 County catchment area. And if we don’t have the resources or the services for people with disabilities, we are so connected within our community. We have community partners that are throughout our catchment area that we work very closely with that we link them in through our information and referral services. And make sure that they have access to the resources and services that are out there within the community and really kind of come together to serve our population through the many different wonderful partners that we have.

Amy Feutz  07:58

Wow, that’s a lot. That’s a lot more than just a residential facility.

Tony Delisle  08:02

Yes, and we’re not here for pity. We’re not here for a handout, we’re here for a hand up. We really come together. And one of the wonderful things I love working here at the Centers and you know, I have a disability, a vision disability, I’m legally blind. And nearly two thirds of the people that work our center here have a disability. Over half of our board has a disability and all Centers of Independent Living have more than half of the staff having a disability. Who better to serve people with disabilities than people with disability?

Amy Feutz  08:32

We’re all about consumer control, correct? Yes, yeah. So that’s great. Now that we’ve learned a little bit more about the CIL. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you initially started with the CIL?

Tony Delisle  08:43

Sure, like I mentioned earlier, I have a vision disabilities a degenerative disability, likely will go blind in my lifetime. And that’s something I’ve been challenged with for most of my life, whether it was education, meaning the accommodations I needed, but once I you know, outside of the academic setting, in the community, I relied on Centers for Independent Living to live independently, actually the one in Winter Park, the Center for Independent Living in South Florida, it was fantastic. And I wouldn’t be here sitting here today, if it wasn’t for those people that work there. And were able to provide me first that sense of community empowerment, and then the services that they were able to provide to me to really get to where I am to be able to continue on with my academic development, to be empowered to get go for the careers that have allowed me to be able to come back and serve other people with disabilities. And so it just so wonderful to be in the position that I am today. Because I was served by a center and just really inspired to help others that may have been in the situations that I was in to be able to lift them up to live the independent life.

Amy Feutz  09:53

Thanks so much for sharing that. I think it’s great you have a consumer perspective and now that you are our executive director being able to bring that perspective and how we serve our consumers, so I think that’s fantastic. And I appreciate you share that little bit of history about yourself. Now that we know a little bit more about you, I’m sure more on how CILs got started.

Tony Delisle  10:21

Sure. Ed Roberts is the gentleman who’s known for really starting the Independent Living movement, early 60s. He wanted to go to Berkeley. And back then they didn’t have a Disability Resource Center, they didn’t have wheelchair ramps, they didn’t have the Equal access and accommodations that thankfully, the universities and other schools have nowadays, to be able to do this. And so through his advocacy, he was able to go to Berkeley, and to become just this amazing advocate for independent living. And of course, this happened during the Civil Rights era. And with most social movements, they don’t exist in a vacuum, and they often juxtapose with one another. So a lot of the tactics and techniques that we’re using the Civil Rights Movement for advocacy for civil rights, were adopted for the Independent Living Movement, and it culminated in actual Congress passing the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. And that was a law that went into effect that, among other things, has funded Centers for Independent Living throughout the United States. And the idea being at that time, people with disabilities were pretty much warehouse and institutional facilities. And that’s how they were cared for, for the most part. And so with the 1973 Rehab Act really helped to get people disabilities out of the institutions and into the community, living in the community. And that is manifested into many of the different services and programs that I just described. And to prevent people from going insane institutional care facilities, whether that’s assisted living facilities, skilled nursing homes, homeless shelters, foster care, our prison system, domestic violence shelters, all of which have high percentages of people with disabilities. And so that’s really the space that Independent Living was carved out of, but then there’s other social movements that it came into intersections with. The consumerism movement, and that’s who we refer to people that access our services, our consumers, the idea being, that they’re the experts, they’re the ones that can identify their needs, and therefore they’re the ones that really drive the types of services that we provide to them. The self improvement movements that were out there about how we can really empower ourselves to live the independent life. And then the Demedicalization of disability. So the idea being that we’re, you know, we’re not, you know, something to be cured. My disability is a permanent disability. And I’m not a problem to be solved, but rather, looking at the social and environmental context in which disability takes place, and addressing many of those factors is getting outside of that medical model of really approaching disability. And the idea is also that, you know, the Independent Living philosophy says that we’re a diverse community, we actually have a lot to offer our society. Through the different life experiences that we have, we can be a valuable and contributing member, we share, you know, similar history, similar challenges. We just have a lot to offer people and we are stronger together unified. So this is part of the Independent Living philosophy, the independent living movement, and our independent living services.

Amy Feutz  13:30

That’s excellent. Tony, I do encourage those listening to please learn about the history of how CILs got started. It really is fascinating, and you’ll learn a lot. So Tony, now that our listeners have an idea of what CIL does provide for our consumers, how does someone reach out and connect with us, especially during this time?

Tony Delisle  13:55

Sure. So one of the best things to do is to go to our website cilncf.org. You can call our center. We have two offices, one here in Gainesville, and one in Ocala. Our Gainesville office is 352-378-7474 that’s 352-378-7474. And our Ocala office is 352-368-3788. That’s 3523683788. And so reach out to us, we want to we want to serve people and if you’re listening to this and you’re outside our catchment area, we’ll make sure that through the show notes or other resources, you can identify the Center for Independent Living in your area, as we want to make sure that we connect you to them because all the centers in Florida there’s 15 Centers for Independent Living in the state of Florida, and there’s nearly 500 nationwide. So this is a big network. And we want to make sure if you’re listening to this, that you know how to find your Center for Independent Living. So we’ll make sure that you have those connections and that contact information as well.

Amy Feutz  14:59

That’s great. Thanks so much. It was wonderful chatting with you, Tony.

Tony Delisle  15:03

This is very special time. This is a very special occasion. And I’m overjoyed with this. Again, I don’t think we would be here if we weren’t in necessarily a crisis. So what a great opportunity to serve better. Well, once again, Amy, it’s been a pleasure to have this conversation with you, this opportunity to bring this message out to a broader audience. I hope this really sparks conversations with people that are out there that we can raise awareness about Centers for Independent Living across Florida, across the nation, that people can feel a sense of community, empowerment, and unity through this because again, disability impacts everybody. If you don’t have a disability you know someone that does, and if you don’t have one, you’re likely going to get one. It’s just a part of human nature. But it doesn’t mean it’s the end of your life. In fact, it could be the beginning of your life. And this episode is the beginning of many more to come, where we can come together as a community with Unity through disability. Very exciting.

Amy Feutz  16:05

It is very exciting. Thanks so much. It was great chatting with you, too.

Tony Delisle  16:08

Thank you so much for this first step of 1000 mile journey or more. And we look forward to having many more episodes where we can share perspectives, ideas, issues, letting people know about the services that are out there. This is very exciting, The Independent Life first ever episode very excited to have you all join us for this and many more to come: The Independent Life podcast.

Amy Feutz  16:34

Thanks for listening to The Independent Life podcast brought to you by the Center for Independent Living of North Central Florida. If you like what you hear, please rate, review and subscribe. And if you know anyone who might benefit from listening, share this podcast and invite them to subscribe too. For questions, suggestions, or if you have a story you’d like to share, please email us at cilncf.org@gmail.com or call us at 352-378-7474 Thanks for joining us. Until next time, support, advocate and empower each other to live the independent life.