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Nothing About Me Without Me.


Southwest Center for Independence (SWCI) is an organization composed of people with disabilities that provide supports and training for the disability and elder communities to break down barriers and live the lives they want in the community. We envision a world where all people with disabilities are valued friends and neighbors, receiving the supports they need to lead the lives they desire, defining their own quality of life and contributing back to the community.

SWCI was established as an independent living center in August 1990 by a small group of La Plata County residents who have disabilities and who were interested in the independent living movement. Within the year, SWCI had hired an Executive Director and an Independent Living Specialist. The Center grew quickly, and was active in advocacy and ADA activities.

Since its foundation in 1990, SWCI has provided free-of-charge assistance to and partnership with people with disabilities in rural southwest Colorado. Our service area is 6,533 square miles in Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma, and San Juan counties, where census figures estimate 12,057 people with disabilities live.We are a grassroots non-profit organization with funding from the state, county, city, local service clubs, philanthropic donors, fundraisers and donations, and fee-for-service activities with agencies.

Core services include

    1. 1) information, referral and options counseling
    2. 2) independent living skills training
    3. 3) individual and systems advocacy
    4. 4) peer support
    5. 5) transitions from restrictive environments to those that are less restrictive (from high school, parent’s home, nursing homes, jail to the community)
    6. 6) nursing home diversion

A Way of Life: Independent Living is a philosophy and a way of life. It is a movement of people with disabilities who work for self-determination, equal opportunities and self-respect. The Independent Living philosophy says that every person, regardless of disability, has the potential and the right to exercise individual self-determination. We expect the same choices and control in our everyday lives that everyone else takes for granted. We want the same freedom to try, and fail, and learn from our failures. We want to grow up in our families, go to the neighborhood school, use the same bus as our neighbors, work in jobs that are in line with our education and abilities, start families of our own. We need to be in charge of our lives, to think and speak for ourselves. We need to support and learn from each other. We must organize ourselves and work for political changes that lead to the legal protection of our human and civil rights.  (Adapted from Adolf Ratzka, http://www.independentliving.org)


Our Core Values: The core values embraced by Centers for Independent Living (CILs) include…

  • 1) Cross disability…which means all disabilities are included. While the daily details of our disabilities are different, we are all experiencing the same societal barriers and oppression. We serve any one with any disability, any age, and any financial situation.

  • 2) Consumer control…which means that the individual with a disability must be able to make his or her own choices, and to be in charge of his or her own life. Consumer control also means that the organizations best suited to assist us are not run by parents, social workers, or medical people, but by us, people who have disabilities.  CILs are run and governed by people with disabilities.

  • 3) Self-help and peer support… which means that people learn and grow by discussing their needs, concerns and issues with people who have had similar experiences.

  • 4) Equal access to society…which means that as barriers are removed and legal rights are honored, society in its broadest sense appreciates and includes people with disabilities in education, employment, housing, recreation, transportation, and all other forms of public and private group activity.

Independent Living Philosophy: The Independent Living (IL) philosophy is very different from the traditional rehabilitation model. The IL philosophy includes the core values discussed above. Its goals for individuals with disabilities are empowerment and self-determination. Its goals for communities are achieving equal access through reducing and removing barriers. The outcome we want is self-determination and full community participation for persons with all disabilities.

The traditional, medical model focuses on what is wrong with the person with a disability, and making efforts to "fix what is broken." In our philosophy, a person with a disability is someone identified as having one or more impairment(s) who has limited choices regarding participation in community life. These choices are limited because of community barriers, low community- and self-expectations, stigma, prejudice, and discrimination. Participation in community life includes getting an education, working, living independently, shopping, worshipping, using public transportation, and political activities. Societal barriers, not the disability itself, are the major reason many people with disabilities have problems living independently. Centers for Independent Living do not "rehabilitate" the person, but instead focus on reducing and removing the barriers that limit our choices.

We believe that people with disabilities know more about what we need than does the government, and that we can direct our supports and our lives more effectively and efficiently than professional service provider agencies.We are dedicated to helping each other lead better lives and taking charge of our own lives with support from each other.We are about building the disability community and developing opportunities to learn, get involved, make social change and have fun.We believe in an inclusive community because improving things for one segment of the population enriches everyone’s lives.

For more information on IL philosophy and history, see




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