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The History of Independent Living & VCIL

The History of Independent Living & VCIL

The modern disability rights movement began in Berkeley, California in the early sixties. The movement founder, Ed Roberts, was disabled by the polio virus in the mid-fifties. After his diagnosis he changed from an active youngster to a person unable to move more than his head and needing oxygen to breathe. In the hospital, he changed even more from someone who tried to starve himself to death to someone who chose to build a life worth living. Ed Roberts fought his own belief that life with a disability was not worth living. Having won that close personal battle, he went on to challenge others. By changing himself, he changed the world and started a new civil rights movement.

It began when he decided he wanted to go to college. The Berkeley campus was not accessible though. The only place he could stay with his iron lung was the infirmary. Before long, he transformed it into a one-person dormitory. Other students with disabilities heard about him and started applying to Berkeley. This group of students joined together to form a group called the Rolling Quads. Over the next several years, they worked together to make the campus and the surrounding city more accessible. The Rolling Quads began attracting even more students with disabilities to Berkeley. They then began a search for housing and employment opportunities beyond the college and the campus. Together, they formed a new community in center in Berkeley, run by and for people with disabilities. This new center became the home of the first Independent Living Center in this country. It turned Berkeley into a national model of accessibility. The Center provided information, peer support, and community advocacy services.

The national movement came to Vermont in 1979. Representatives from several regional cross-disability groups organized and created the Vermont Center for Independent Living (VCIL). Project Outreach, a survey conducted in 1978, indicated that hundreds of Vermonters, living with disabilities shared certain common desires. They wanted better information and one-to-one peer support. They also wanted small groups to work together to make Vermont communities more accessible to all people. These results shaped VCIL’s first programs and its application for federal funding. Since then, VCIL has grown from a local Montpelier-based program to a statewide organization. We have regional offices in Bennington, Brattleboro, and Burlington. We also have outreach workers throughout the state.



Project Outreach Study interviews approximately 750 Vermonters with disabilities throughout Vermont.


United Disabled People of Vermont is formed.
VCIL is founded February 13, 1979. First federal funding begins in August.


VCIL founders successfully advocate state legislature for a state funded pilot for the Participant Directed Attendant Care Program.


VCIL hires our first four peer advocacy, outreach and advocacy staff.
VCIL begins the Vermont’s Client Assistance Program, an ombudsman service for individuals served by Rehabilitation Act Programs. The program now operates as a program of the Disability Law Program at Legal Aid.
VCIL begins the Vermont’s Client Assistance Program, an ombudsman service for individuals served by Rehabilitation Act Programs. The program now operates as a program of the Disability Law Program at Legal Aid.


VCIL joins the Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights. Annual advocacy on accessibility civil rights, and disability programs becomes a way of life.


VCIL interviews younger people in nursing homes about their independent living interests and barriers. Final report calls for independent housing and support options.
VCIL produces “One in Eight” the first publication profiling statistics on disability in Vermont.
VCIL begins Home Modifications and Assistive Technology Programs.


Options for Independent Living Project helps people with disabilities avoid or leave nursing homes. Later becomes the Sue Williams Freedom Fund, a joint project of the Statewide Independent Living Council and VCIL.


VCIL, Coburn and Feeley, and twelve individuals with disabilities develop Vermont’s consumer run first attendant care cooperative.
VCIL Deaf Independence Program begins.


VCIL hosts ADAPT Action at Governors Association meeting in Burlington, opens Bennington and Brattleboro offices, and begins Meals on Wheels program.
Deaf Independence staff train police and courts on Deaf culture and begin planning the Deaf Victims Advocacy Services, a new organization for Deaf victims of abuse.


Brattleboro ADA Committee forms.


VCIL becomes Vermont’s technical assistance and training provider on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) through New England ADA Center with funding from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR), formerly Adaptive Environments of Boston.
Burlington Office opens.
Fair Housing and Benefits to Work programs start.
VCIL, Green Mountain Self-Advocates & Vermont Psychiatric Survivors form partnership to advocate for consumer choice and control of Medicaid funded disability services.


Youth Leadership Program becomes a program at VCIL.
VCIL begins Emergency Management Initiative.


Youth Leadership Program becomes a program at VCIL.
VCIL begins Emergency Management Initiative.


Medical Education Partnership offers disability and health education sessions at three Vermont hospitals and two primary care practices.
Fair Housing and Voting Rights videos produced and new PAS educational materials field tested by users of consumer-directed personal care programs.


Violence Against Women With Disabilities Collaborative Grant with the Network Against Domestic & Sexual Violence is received from the Department of Justice Office of Violence Against Women (OVW).


Vermont AgrAbility begins as a collaborative partnership with the University of Vermont Extension working to support Vermont farmers/veterans with disabilities.


VCIL joins the NCIL Task Force on Violence and Abuse of People with Disabilities, and advocates in 2012 for fuller inclusion in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which provides funding for violence-response organizations.


Montpelier ADA Committee forms with VCIL staff and Montpelier City Council members.


VCIL hosts a statewide ADA training for state and municipal government on the new 2010 ADA standards adopted following the 2008 ADA Amendments Act.
Barre ADA Committee forms with support from VCIL staff.


VCIL participates in the Respectful Language Study mandated by the Vermont Legislature’s passage of bill S.90, Act 24, and makes recommendations for specific language changes to 29 of the 33 Vermont statutes.


In response to Act 79, VCIL creates the Wellness Workforce Coalition, a statewide coalition of peer-run organizations that supports training and advocacy for Vermont’s peer workforce while preserving the autonomy, character and contributions of each member organization.
Burlington Accessibility Committee is reinstated by municipality due to community advocacy of peers.


Women of Color Network invites VCIL to join as community partner in its national advocacy work to increase professional development of women of color in the domestic violence response movement.


VCIL works with the Vermont Community Development Program to require all municipal applicants for Community Development Block Grant project funds to have plans reviewed by a third party for ADA compliance and accessibility for people with disabilities.
VCIL works with the state of Vermont to update its formal grievance procedure and nominate ADA coordinators for ADA Titles 1, II and III.

2014 / 2015

The Vermont Interpreter Referral Service (VIRS) joins VCIL. VIRS provides statewide American Sign Language (ASL)/spoken English interpreter referral services for medical, legal, employment, educational, civil and recreational situations.


VCIL advocates with Preservation Trust of Vermont to increase tax credit limits for barrier removal projects and Limited Use Limited Access (LULA) elevators.


In partnership with VocRehab Vermont, VCIL creates a Youth Transition Program.
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