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.
- The freedom to access social, physical, cultural and economic environments.
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:
- Choice & Control
- Daily Life
- Health & Wellbeing
- Social, Civic & Community Participation
- Work & Valued Social Roles
- 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.
Promote decision making with these principles:
- Can make decisions.
- May sometimes require help when making decisions.
- Can learn by doing things.
- Have the option to change my mind.
- May make independent decisions despite what others think.
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.
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
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.
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.