Independent Living is as American as Apple Pie and Parades on the Fourth of July.

Two hundred and forty-six years ago, a document composed by a man with a learning disability changed our nation forever. Historians believe that Thomas Jefferson, the brilliant writer of the Declaration of Independence, had dyslexia. So did our first president, George Washington.

They were not alone.

James Madison, our fourth president and the “Father of the Constitution” had epilepsy. Abraham Lincoln had depression. Franklin D. Roosevelt led our country through the Great Depression and World War II while using a wheelchair due to contracting polio in his childhood. Dwight D. Eisenhower had Chron’s Disease, a health-related disability. This did not stop him from winning on the beaches of Normandy, nor did it hinder his ability to lead our nation as its president. Teddy Roosevelt had a visual impairment caused by an injury.


Abraham Lincoln had depression.

We would not have America as we know it today without these leaders with disabilities. They were and are an integral part of our history and often, their disabilities are overlooked or completely forgotten.

Nationally, Centers for Independent Living, embrace and share the Independent Living Philosophy that is clearly linked to the founding of our country. The philosophy holds that people with disabilities are the experts of their own lives and have the ability and freedom to choose how and where they want to live, just as the colonists did when they signed the Declaration of Independence.

Franklin D. Roosevelt led our country through the Great Depression and World War II while using a wheelchair due to contracting polio in his childhood.

And just as the American Dream varies from person to person, so too does independent living. For some, independent living means residing alone in their own home through structural modifications and for others it means choosing to live with a roommate and/or support person.

Independent living is as diverse as the American Dream, and CILs exists to help people realize their own unique version. However, people with disabilities regularly encounter barriers to independent living and their American Dream. It was not until 1990, more than 200 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, when the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act afforded people with disabilities the same federal protections under the law that those without disabilities take for granted. Even with the passage of the ADA, far too many businesses, events and recreational opportunities, and employment openings are still not accessible to people with disabilities. At a time when the national unemployment rate is 3.6 percent, people with disabilities are still unemployed at more than double that rate.

Without meaningful employment, accessible and affordable housing options, and integrated community participation activities, the American Dream of Independent Living is out of reach for far too many people with disabilities.

Disability Network Lakeshore, a Center for Independent Living, has operated in Ottawa and Allegan counties since 1992. For 30 years, we have helped thousands of Michiganders chase their version of the American Dream and Independent Living through our five core services: Advocacy, Information and Referral, Peer Support, Skills Development and Transition.

The organization’s staff brings more than 150 years of combined experience coming alongside people with disabilities to decide how they want to live, work and play.

The next time you consider the freedoms that you enjoy, we ask you to consider that many of our founders and early leaders of this country lived with a disability. Think about how that must have impacted the words they chose to impart on us “… that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

We could not agree more.


Source:, Amanda Rhines-Poehlman