Independent Living Center Services for People with Cognitive Disabilities


Centers for independent living historically have served people with physical disabilities. The concept and service system, too, has been used by people who have non-physical disabilities to help them transition into the community from institutions. However, centers for independent have reported that they don’t have the experience to provide services for this population.

Purpose and Anticipated Benefits

Independent living programs might be better able to serve people with cognitive disabilities if centers have more understanding of this population’s capabilities.


Michael Jones, Gary Ulicny, and Mark Mathews of the Research and Training Center on Independent Living, with Glen White, a doctoral student at the time, conducted this survey of 107 respondents.




A two-page questionnaire requesting information about: (a) number of consumers in each category (people with mental retardation, mental illness, traumatic head injury, and cognitive disabilities associated with aging) served in the past year; (b) increases or decreases in requests for services in the past year; (c) direct services provided to each group; (d) instances of successful service provision to any group; (e) reasons for not serving each group, if that was the case; and (f) difficulties encountered in attempting to provide services to each group was mailed to each of the 156 centers for independent living funded by Title VII, Part B of Ph. 95-602. The cover letter explained the study’s purpose and requested completion and return of the questionnaires. Of 156 questionnaires mailed, 107 were completed and returned, for a response rate of 69%.


Most respondents provided services to at least one of the four groups. The average number of consumers serviced in each group ranged from 5.5 for people with traumatic brain injury to 11.5 for people with disabilities related to aging. Most respondents said the number of requests for services to people with cognitive disabilities had increased over the past year; only 22% reported a decrease in service requests for services for the population. Services most frequently provided to people with cognitive disabilities were information and referral, housing referral, rights and benefits advocacy assistance, independent living skills training, and peer counseling. Examples of innovative services for these groups included adapted instructions for independent living skills training, family and guardian advocacy training, peer adult buddy systems, computer-aided cognitive retraining, assessment services for people in transition from institutional to community programs, and independent living outreach to other agencies serving these consumers.


“Survey results highlight the need for increased cooperation and communication among agencies serving severely disabled individuals. For example, independent living centers may be more inclined to serve these individuals, and referrals may be made more frequently if the unique nature of independent living services is better publicized. There is also a need for (a) better understanding among independent living center staff of the capabilities of people with cognitive disabilities, and (b) specialized training so they are better equipped to provide independent living services to these individuals. Through greater understanding and cooperation among all service providers, the important benefits derived from the independent living concept may be shared by all.” (p. 247)


Jones, M.L., White, G.W., Ulicny, G., & Mathews, R.M. (1988). A survey of service by independent living centers to people with cognitive disabilities. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin 31, 245-248.