Prior to opening our doors over 30 years ago in Lawrence, the greater Merrimack Valley region provided few options for people with disabilities besides life in a nursing home, state hospital or residential school. In 1980, that all began to change when we started identifying people with disabilities and their families to provide them with Independent Living (IL) services. NILP was one of the first independent living centers to be created using the newly formed federal funding for Centers for Independent Living. Through the leadership of disability advocate Charlie Carr, NILP became a national example of real cross disability services being provided for the disabled by the disabled. From our inception, it is mandated in our charter that at least 51% of our staff and 51% of our board be persons with disabilities.
The need for IL advocacy and services was over-whelming for our initial staff of three people. Traveling from house to house, and institution to institution, we were completely committed to spreading the word of IL and building a foundation for fundamental change.
NILP subscribes heavily to peer role modeling. People with disabilities working together to achieve independence are likely to bond to their shared experience of disability, which makes teaching and counseling much easier and more immediate. Additionally, fundamental to the IL philosophy is cross-disability – the belief that IL is a right for people with all types of disabilities. While various types and levels of disability each have their own unique challenges, we believe all persons with disabilities share the same struggle for the self-determination of their lives and an equal opportunity in society.
Present in all of our work are a minimum of four basic core IL services: Peer Counseling, Skills Training, Advocacy and Information and Referral. Our programs and projects include: A Smoother Transition, Deaf and Hard of Hearing IL Services, Career Development Resource Assessment Project, Adults with Physical Disabilities, Services to Mental Health Consumers/Psychiatric Survivors, and the Independent Living/Vocational Rehabilitation Project.
NILP’s by-laws require that a minimum of 51% of its Board of Directors is people with disabilities that reflect the disability community we serve. The same holds true for the staff at all levels. Further, anyone who has received services during the year is eligible to vote for the Board at its Annual Meeting.