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The community independent living program: an educational model.

This article describes the development and status of an innovative program to train independent living services providers at the baccalaureate level. Current curriculum and student activities are outlined. Development of similar programs is encouraged.

Independent living services are an established component of the rehabilitation field. Directed toward maximum autonomy for persons with severe disabilities in all areas of life functioning, the concept of independent living H,) was inspired by consumer and professional advocates (DeJong, 1979a) and the establishment of programs and services mandated by the 1978 Amendments to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (P.L. 93-112) and the Rehabilitation Comprehensive Services and Developmental Disabilities Amendments of 1978 (P.L. 95-603).

Since that time, community-based services and delivery systems have emerged and operated in such diverse and varied settings as transitional facilities, group homes, vocational rehabilitation programs, educational facilities and independent living centers. A comprehensive discussion of the strengths and possible pitfalls in this continuum of IL services is available from the Center on Human Policy of Syracuse University (Taylor, 1988).

Need for Independent Living Education

However, concomitant with initial growth in services has been a documented shortage of committed and competent personnel (Dennis, 1985; Menz, 1983; Pelavin, Pelavin & Celebuski, 1987). Menz's (1983) national survey of manpower needs in rehabilitation facilities predicted a need for 11,739 new personnel specializing in independent living skills by 1990. Dennis (1985) confirmed the demand for trained personnel in the Upper Midwest, finding 138 programmatic expansions planned by the 238 programs surveyed. Pelavin, et al., (1987), researching shortages of qualified personnel and training needs, found sizable numbers of unfilled positions in independent living. Moreover, 10 of the 13 independent living respondents cited inadequate education and training as a factor contributing to an unsatisfactory pool of applicants. Those shortages must be viewed in light of the increasingly severe labor market competitiveness of the '90s (Brownstein, 1989).

Deficiencies in existing training programs have been noted. In a national survey of 170 agencies providing independent living skills training programs, Iceman and Dunlap (1984) reported wide variations in the content and scope of programs, a lack of standardized assessment tools, and a lack of effective instructional materials. The need for curriculum content that is relevant and specific to the needs of persons with disabling conditions has been strongly expressed. Stubbins (1984) asserted that more attention should be paid to the ecology of disabled persons, since in reality the purported "interdisciplinary" team approach of rehabilitation counseling "remains little more than a slogan."

Further complicating training needs is the fact that various programs providing independent living services may operate from dissimilar philosophical frameworks and assumptions. For example, Independent Living Centers are unique in philosophy (Budde, Petty, Nelson & Couch, 1986), particularly with regard to consumer participation and choice in goal-setting and decision-making related to individual needs and services (DeJong, 1979b; Frieden, 1978; Nosek, 1987).

In response to the need for personnel trained to meet these diverse demands of the field, a pre-service and in-service education program, culminating in a Bachelor of Science degree in Community Independent Living, was developed at Mankato State University, Mankato, Minnesota. This article presents a brief overview of the development, continuing evaluation and expansion, and student activities within that program.

Background and Program Development

The program was a joint venture of the Departments of Rehabilitation Counseling and Home Economics. Preplanning leading to the development of content areas and specific training approaches involved a program advisory committee, private consultants, related department faculty, the Minnesota Association on Rehabilitation Education and Training, state rehabilitation agencies and facilities, as well as interested individuals and students. Workshops, individual courses related to severe disability and independent living, and several supporting research projects provided concomitant feedback for further planning. Preliminary topical and content areas were selected to emphasize understanding and application of the philosophy and skills needed to facilitate independent living.

To meet the goal of integration of persons with severe disabilities into the mainstream of society, the focus was directed toward residential and community living, personal daily living and advocacy, as well as prevocational, vocational, and avocational or leisure activities.

Curriculum for the program was developed through an empirically validated process. Content was drawn from preplanning, workshop experiences, independent living counseling theory by Roessler (1982), and, finally, by Dennis' (1985) survey of current services. Dennis also documented the need for the development of an independent living curriculum at the Bachelor's level in the Mankato State service area, finding less than 18 percent of those currently in the field holding a Baccalaureate degree. Training needs were particularly clustered in the areas of case service skills, administrative skills, behavioral analysis and management, skills of daily living, and recreational activities.

In a follow-up study in Minnesota by Schmitt (1986), seventeen specific courses were identified as having high importance for staff training. These were categorized as courses providing information and skill development in: 1) assisting disabled consumers with the practical needs of daily living; 2) understanding of the dynamics and issues of disabling conditions; 3) effective program management and staff development; 4) planning and implementing recreational services for people with disabilities; 5) consultation and counseling skills; and 6) the background, philosophy and trends in rehabilitation, especially those needs and services unique to independent living rehabilitation. The resulting courses occur in a broad range of the social and natural sciences reflective of a truly interdisciplinary and holistic approach to independent living, and are presented as Table 1.

Following development of curriculum and hiring of a coordinator, students were enrolled and classes begun in 1987. Initial funding for start-up and operations resulted from a three-year Rehabilitation Services Administration grant. Since its inception, the program has been affirmative in focus, establishing recruitment of minorities and students with disabilities as a high priority for the program.

Program Evaluation and Expansion

Continuous evaluation and upgrading of the original curriculum has been conducted via several strategies. Pertinent independent living issues, as presented in the available literature (Carling, 1989; Johnson & Fawcett, 1987; Jones, Petty, Bolles & Mathews, 1986; Nosek, Jones and Zhu, 1989; and Tate, 1984) are perused and integrated into the curricula on a consistent basis. A program advisory committee consisting of professionals from independent living centers and community-based facilities, faculty, students, and individual consumers from the community meet quarterly to review progress of the program and provide input from the field regarding changes and independent living issues relevant to the program. This also serves as a forum for suggesting revisions or areas of expansion in the curriculum. For example, negotiations, specific case management systems, and other procedural issues were identified as desirable provider skills. Based on input from the committee, a curriculum was developed and followed with workshop training.

To maintain standards of excellence in teaching, all faculty are evaluated by administration of a standardized instructional assessment form, and performance and content are adapted accordingly. A broader critique is derived from faculty participation in national conferences such as the National Association of Independent Living and the National Association of Home Economics, where review and suggestions from professionals and/or consumers are elicited and incorporated into overall programming.

A faculty research grant supported additional studies to determine internship opportunities within a five-state region (Sandersfeld, 1988), and employment data such as salary, job openings, internship availability, and accessibility was collected (Stapleton, 1988). Internship procedures, using the directory based on the internship research, including a comprehensive site selection process, have been established to maximize successful completion of a nine quarter-hour internship requirement. Efforts are made by faculty and students to select sites that will consolidate classroom learning as well as provide an opportunity to apply skills in several settings or in an area of particular interest.

Internships are carefully monitored by faculty using uniform and pre-established standards of performance. Following site selection, a contract specifying objectives and goals related to skill-building and performance is developed by student, faculty, and site supervisor. Progress is evaluated at midpoint and necessary changes made. Upon completion, a meeting is conducted with all participants and a final report documenting achievement of goals and objectives is prepared by the student and site supervisor. This final step has proved most useful in terms of reinforcing student competence and providing a qualitative measure of pre-service training effectiveness.

Student Participation

Although some students are from surrounding states, most of the students are in-state, and many are commuters from surrounding areas. To accommodate this need, many courses are offered through Extended Campus. Students are encouraged to integrate an independent living philosophy into program and community activities. A student organization has been developed for the express purpose of supporting students in the mastery of the intricacies and technicalities of the university and the major's requirements for identifying accessibility and advocacy issues, and for planning activities that will provide further education for students and others regarding disability issues and independent living. Student representatives are especially encouraged to actively participate in the program advisory committee to learn the participatory process and to provide student input on program operation.

Field-based learning experiences are encouraged throughout the program. Participation and membership is encouraged in various rehabilitation associations such as the state and national Associations of Independent Living. Attendance at conferences has provided an opportunity for students to acquire additional insights into the field and to solidify or expand interests, network, and explore internship possibilities. Student activities directed at skill-building can assume various forms such as volunteer or community services and paid work experiences; however, paid work experiences are readily available in the community and are encouraged since these tend to legitimize competence in the eyes of potential employers. These opportunities have the further benefit of generating student confidence as well as providing a "testing ground" for classroom learning.

Consumer participation in classroom instruction is encouraged at several levels. Individuals with disabilities are frequently guest lecturers or panel members. Experiences and information shared in this format convey "personal" aspects of disability and are perceived as complementing standard "textbook" approaches. Several students have been instrumental in grassroots efforts to develop an Independent Living Center at the community level. This hands-on experience has inspired a greater understanding of the struggles involved in establishing services, an appreciation of past advocacy efforts, and a broader knowledge of the more technical aspects of program development such as group process and grant writing.


This article has described the establishment of a Community Independent Living Program which prepares students to enter this emerging field at the undergraduate level. Following several years of preparatory efforts, including courses and workshops, University and Rehabilitation Services Administration resources were combined and directed toward an interdisciplinary curriculum leading to a major or minor in Independent Living. The final curriculum was research-based, and continuous improvement and expansion are an integral part of the program. Student activity and field-based experiences have played a significant role in the new program from its inception.

It is the hope of these authors that this article will assist others in designing and implementing similar training programs at other institutions of higher education across the nation. The need is well documented and a path has been blazed. Hopefully, others will follow the path.

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41-53. Received: November 1989 Revised: March 1990 Accepted: May 1990 MARTHA M. BERGLAND, Mankato State University, P.O. Box 8400, Mankato, Minnesota 56002-9400. TABULAR DATA OMITTED
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Article Details
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Author:Clark, Donald W.
Publication:The Journal of Rehabilitation
Date:Jul 1, 1991
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