May 5th was declared as the European Day on Independent Living in 2014 and since then European Network on Independent Living (ENIL), together with its members and supporters, has been celebrating the philosophy of Independent Living of persons with disabilities annually by raising public awareness through different activities.
Very often when speaking about the independent living of persons with disabilities, we tend to think that it means living alone and coping with the daily routine without anyone’s help and support and if people with disabilities are not able to do so, it’s better for them to live in closed residential institutions, where the local staff can provide them with daily care.
This misperception is so widespread and common, that in October 2017 Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities issued a General comment No.5 on living independently and being included in the community where it clearly outlines that: “Independent living is an essential part of the individual’s autonomy and freedom and does not necessarily mean living alone. It should also not be interpreted solely as the ability to carry out daily activities by oneself. Rather, it should be regarded as the freedom to choose and control, in line with the respect for inherent dignity and individual autonomy”. In the same document, the Committee also condemned the existence of closed specialized institutions for disabled people whether it is a large place with hundreds of residents or a small group home with only 5-8 persons.
Unfortunately, we used to perceive that if a person is different on any ground: race, nationality, religion, gender, sexuality, disability and etc. this person can’t have the same basic human rights, same human values or life goals. If we are fighting for dignified life and for having opportunities to achieve independence and autonomy, the same applies to everyone regardless of their difference on any ground. And if for achieving their life goals, others receive an enormous amount of support from families, friends, relatives, colleagues, teachers, tutors, etc. on a daily basis, why do we think that with disabled persons things have to be done differently? Why do we think that it is better to put disabled persons in closed residential institutions instead of giving them the support they need in order to live independently among us and not in isolation?
Independent living for persons with disabilities is actually very similar to how independent living is understood and supported for others. It means that each and every person has the right for exercising freedom of choice, control over their lives by making their own decisions, choosing where and with whom to live and leading a “life with the maximum level of self-determination and interdependence within society”.
Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, General Comment No. 5 (2017) on living independently and being included in the community, CRPD/C/GC/5, para 16(a) http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CRPD/C/GC/5&Lang=en
Ibid. Para 8
Author: Ketevan Khomeriki