On 13th March, the European Disability Forum (EDF) – bringing together European and national disability organisations – adopted a common definition of Independent Living, proposed by the European Network on Independent Living (ENIL). ENIL welcomes this significant development, which will help ensure better understanding of the right to independent living, as set out in Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), at the European level.
For years, ENIL has been raising concerns about the misuse of the Independent Living terminology by governments, service providers and others. Independent Living has been used to describe situations where disabled people are institutionalised, have little or no control over their lives or the support they receive. It has also been used as synonymous with self-sufficiency, or self-reliance, implying that it is not in the best interest of disabled people. To counter such hijacking of our terminology by those misselling their service – often to obtain EU funding – ENIL has campaigned for a common definition of Independent Living to be agreed by the disability movement.
Having a common definition of Independent Living is the first step in ensuring that it becomes part of the EU and national policy documents, and contributes to better implementation and monitoring of the UN CRPD. ENIL will continue to advocate in this direction and act as a watchdog, making sure that Independent Living is taken for what it really is – having the same choices as everyone else and being in control of one’s life.
Independent living is the daily demonstration of human rights-based disability policies. Independent living is possible through the combination of various environmental and individual factors that allow disabled people* to have control over their own lives. This includes the opportunity to make real choices and decisions regarding where to live, with whom to live and how to live. Services must be available, accessible to all and provided on the basis of equal opportunity, free and informed consent and allowing disabled people flexibility in our daily life. Independent living requires that the built environment, transport and information are accessible, that there is availability of technical aids, access to personal assistance and/or community-based services. It is necessary to point out that independent living is for all disabled persons, regardless of the gender, age and the level of their support needs.
ENIL has also adopted definitions of personal assistance, deinstitutionalisation and community-based services. These are explained in more detail in our Myth buster and Fact sheets.
* ENIL prefers the term ‘disabled people’ over ‘persons with disabilities’ or ‘people with disabilities’, in order to reflect the fact that people are disabled by the environmental, systemic and attitudinal barriers in society, rather than by their impairment. This is in line with the social model of disability.