By | June 14, 2016

The concept of independence for special populations means more than working a job and having one’s own residence. P. Rock, who is the author of “Independence: What it means to six disabled people living in the community,” states that “Independence for young people with disability means having choice and control of their life and their environment.”

Individuals in special populations must have access to the same opportunities as their peers without a disability; furthermore, to make meaningful decisions about managing their lives, they need support from those around them.

The United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of People with Disability stresses that independence for individuals with disabilities includes:

  • Opportunities to participate in making decisions.
  • Self-Sufficiency.
  • The freedom to access social, physical, cultural and economic environments.


Fiercely Independent

For some people with a disability, the term independence brings forth visions of loneliness and isolation. Every individual needs to feel valuable and loved, becoming fiercely independent counters this need. The best protection for an individual with a disability is not necessarily those individuals who take care of him or her, but, instead, the personal relationships an individual builds with others.


Tips to Encourage Independence for Special Populations

The following recommendations are made in relation to reasonable and necessary support a caregiver/teacher can provide to promote independence for each and every person with a disability.


1. Reduce Barriers and Address Hurdles

To achieve a goal, strategies must be developed that will help the individual overcome the various barriers caused by the negative impacts of social stereotypes; moreover, hurdles related to the identification of goals must be addressed. Failing to reduce these barriers and address these hurdles will keep the individual from achieving his or her dreams.

2. The Ordinary Life Test

Individuals with and without a disability have identical aspirations.

In order to help an individual with a disability on his or her path to enhanced independence, a teacher/caregiver must consider the age appropriate level of the person being served (compared to his or her peers without a disability) to:

  • Make decisions.
  • Contribute economically, culturally and socially.

3. Recognize the Importance of Developing Relationships

Relationships with peers help individuals develop an identity. Many individuals with a disability have difficulty when it comes to transitioning from relying on others and becoming independent; therefore, supporting them to be active in their relationships and maintain control over the what, where, when and who emphasizes an individual’s decision making skills and identity; thus, strengthening his or her autonomy.

Some individuals with a disability may require support to attain the skills necessary to build and then sustain relationships; however, others may just need support to consciously interact to bring others into his or her circle of friends.

4. Becoming Independent in the Major Life Domains

The eight major life domains that should be incorporated into an individual’s daily living routine include:

  1. Choice & Control
  2. Daily Life
  3. Health & Wellbeing
  4. Relationships
  5. Social, Civic & Community Participation
  6. Home
  7. Work & Valued Social Roles
  8. Education & Training


Independence in Major Life Domains: A Guideline

Teachers/Caregivers should encourage individuals with a disability to make decisions related to his or her daily life.

These decisions may include:

  • What time to get up in the morning.
  • When to go out and where to go.
  • Planning meetings.

The goal is to enable individuals with a disability to make bigger life decisions such as:

  • Where to live.
  • Which services to use.
  • What type of employment he or she would like to hold.


1. Choice & Control


Assist the individual in moving from others directing and managing the services for him or her to the individual managing and directing his or her own services.

Decision Making

Promote decision making with these principles:


  1. Can make decisions.
  2. May sometimes require help when making decisions.
  3. Can learn by doing things.
  4. Have the option to change my mind.
  5. May make independent decisions despite what others think.

Identity Formation

Assists the individual in forming his or her identity. Recognize and respect the various aspects of an individual. Help the individual see himself or herself as more than an individual with a disability. For example, he or she may be a member of a choir, an individual who loves to dance, someone who enjoys hiking, etc.


2. Daily Life

Moving Toward Becoming Self-Reliant

Provide the individual with training to assist in giving him or her the skills necessary to limit reliance on caregivers.

Using Public Transportation without Support

Provide training so he or she can travel using public transportation without assistance.

Active Choices Related to Assistance

Support the individual in making adjustments that allow him or her to choose:

  • What assistance he or she receives.
  • Who assists him or her.
  • When assistance is provided.
  • Where they receive assistance.


3. Health & Wellbeing

Self-Sufficient in Coordinating Health Related Supports

Help individuals understand the tests and services they need to remain healthy. Assist them as they learn to make and keep their appointments; furthermore, implement any recommendations from appointments.

Self-Sufficient in Living a Healthy Lifestyle

Help individuals understand the elements that make up a healthy lifestyle and assist them in making adjustments to live healthier.


4. Relationships

Pursue His or Her Own Relationships

He or she should decide when to have contact and what type of contact to have (telephone call, meet for lunch, etc.).

Independence in Interaction

The ability to privately visit with his or her friend.

Provide support to encourage an individual to make adjustments so he or she can travel as an individual (rather than in a group). Attending places at specific times allows an individual to facilitate being recognized and valued.

Safe Sex Practices

Provide training related to sexual health.


5. Social, Civic & Community

Leisure Activities

Support individuals in choosing a leisure activity (without a menu of options), this includes their ability to choose the time, location and the individuals they would like to invite to the leisure activity.

Engagement in Mainstream Community Groups

Offer support for individuals who want to become active in community groups and support active participation in community discussions.


Help individuals understand how the electoral system works: Encourage them to register to vote and then assist them with casting their vote.


6. Home

Control Over Support

Individuals may need to make adjustments related to who provides them with support, how they receive support, when and where they receive support. This includes, what they eat, when they go to sleep and get up in the morning, as well as when they go somewhere, where they go and the individuals accompanying them.

Choice of Housing

Choose the type of housing he or she would like (apartment, house or mobile/modular home), as well as who they will reside with.


7. Education & Training

Participating in the Course They Choose

Support individuals who want to take mainstream courses, as opposed to courses designed for persons with a disability.


8. Work & Valued Social Roles

Type of Valued Social Role or Employment

Support individuals who choose social roles demonstrating competence in their areas of choice, as well as choices related to open employment.

In conclusion, knowing, valuing, respecting and understanding what is important to each person being served is essential: This knowledge allows a caregiver/teacher to prioritize and meet the needs of each person being served.

Trina McMillin

Trina brings to Relias a wealth of knowledge and personal experience related to the medical field, dental issues, mental health, and physical therapy techniques. She has worked in various positions over her career which includes being a phlebotomist, laboratory assistant and medical transcriptionist.

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