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Independent living philosophy: a gift for the future.

A sense of personal independence is probably the most valuable tool parents can impart to their children (with or without disabilities) as they mature into adults. A sense of self-worth, a willingness to take risks and an ability to see the results of one's actions in life as well as on the lives of others are all attitudes that may be fostered at a very early age. Whether a child can physically handle daily independent living activities is immaterial in the grand scheme of things. Independence of spirit is vastly more critical in the child's development and successful transition to adulthood.

In the case of people with disabilities, physical activities are functions that may be performed with assistance from other people and equipment, such as wheelchairs, electric doors and remote controls. What is more important is the individual's ability and motivation to manage these assistive aids. In this way, he or she can take charge of his or her life and make the same kinds of choices that everyone else is free to make.

I sincerely doubt that my parents knew they were promoting an independent living philosophy to my sisters and me while they were raising us. All they knew was that the most precious gift they could give us was the ability to think of ourselves as independent people, masters of our individual destinies.

We each grew up, went to college, developed careers and relationships and established our own homes and lives. We never questioned that this was the path our lives would take. And although I was the offspring with the disability, the goals and expectations were no different for me, from my parents' point of view or my own. Granted, I have had to make accommodations and alternate arrangements at times, but the end results have been the same.

Believe me, there are times when I tire of this quest for achievement. There are days when I want to "let Mother do it." There are moments when l want to throw in the towel, but these moments pass quickly. I have worked hard to get where l am today in my social emotional and professional life. And although I have had the invaluable, continuous support from my family and friends, I have done it myself.

But before I strain my arm from patting myself so vigorously on the back, I am reminded from whence the impetus came. It came from my parents. I also know that there is an additional benefit. They know that l can and will take charge of my own life. We continue to share in one another's lives, but the responsibility for my welfare is my own. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Suzanne Bacal is a coordinator of community education and outreach at an independent living center in Philadelphia, Penn. She is part of the Mayor's Commission on People with Disabilities Advisory Committee. As an adult with a disability, Bacal considers herself an advocate, both professionally and personally. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology from Hofstra University and a Master's degree in education from the University of Miami.
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Author:Bacal, Suzanne B.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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