Independent Living and Aging Services


Independent living and aging have a high degree of potential overlap and relevance to one another but little effective interaction.

Purpose and Anticipated Benefits

Possible collaboration between these two related service organizations could benefit both and the populations they serve.


Mark Mathews, Research and Training Center on Independent Living at the University of Kansas, received a Switzer Fellowship to focus on these two potentially related areas and contacted staff at 100 centers for independent living and 100 Area Agencies on Aging (AAA). Of the distributed surveys, 111 were completed and returned.




The project was conducted in four phases: 1) determine the extent of current collaboration among independent living and aging training providers; 2) identify relevant knowledge and techniques used in independent living fields; 3) survey centers for independent living and senior centers to identify program and service needs; and 4) describe a model based on experience with independent living and aging programs for improved information dissemination and training procedures in major research centers.

Telephone and personal interviews were conducted with the staff of both research and training centers on independent living, both research and training centers on aging, as well as other relevant programs to determine the extent of current collaboration between independent living and aging training providers. These interviews focused primarily on information sharing and curriculum development. At the time of the survey, very little interaction between these areas had occurred. However, all program personnel interviewed were positive and open to future collaboration.

Telephone interviews also were used to identify available products, procedures, and training programs. The goal was to collect a comprehensive list to be used for a survey of centers for independent living and AAA program and service needs. Information was coded into 11 standardized categories. Based on interviews with experts and relevant literature, a list of available technology for aging or independent living service delivery was compiled. Based on this list, a survey was developed to assess center for independent living and AAA staffs’ perceptions of the importance and pervasiveness of service-related issues, organizational needs, and appropriate targets for change.

Each item was rated on a 5-point linear scale. Items included in the service survey were health insurance, accessible housing, safe housing, employment opportunities, public transit, community understanding, employment incentives, employment discrimination, paratransit, media portrayal, private transportation, citizen involvement, utility bills, accessible sidewalks, public building access, personal care attendants, knowledge of legal rights, handicapped parking, assistive devices, budgeting knowledge, employment finding skills, meeting new people, nutritious meals, peer counseling, etc.


After mean satisfaction and importance ratings were computed, in addition to problem scores, the results indicated that health insurance, accessible housing, safe housing, employment opportunities, and public transit were the five greatest service-related problems identified by both centers and AAAs.

The greatest differences between centers and AAAs were associated with centers considering employment incentives, employment opportunities, public transit, and meeting new people to be more serious problems than AAA ratings. Conversely, AAAs rated daily living skills as a more serious problem than did centers for independent living.

On the subject of organizational issues, centers and AAAs rated staff burnout, expanding resources, consumer involvement, fundraising, and evaluating consumer needs as their five greatest problems. Regarding targets of change, both provided similar ratings on appropriate targets for change, with a particular emphasis on changing the social system rather than the consumer.


The survey results suggested tremendous opportunities for collaboration between independent living and aging service delivery systems and researchers. Both face similar organization issues and problems and rated many items similarly, that is, health insurance, housing, transportation, and community awareness. Innovations to help one should benefit the other.


The Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Independent Living, The University of Kansas. (1989). Independent living and aging services.Lawrence, KS: Author

Mathews, R. M. (1990). Service delivery systems for aging and independent living. Institute on Rehabilitation Issues: Aging in America, Las Vegas, NV.