What is the Tennessee Independent Living Network?
By Linnet Overton
About the Author
Linnet Overton is the new executive director of the Statewide Independent Living Council of Tennessee and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has worked with Tennessee Voices for Children, the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services, Community Food Advocates, and Disability Rights Tennessee.
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Most people take for granted their ability to choose where and how to live, work, and play. For the more than a million Tennesseans with disabilities though, barriers in our communities often limit or eliminate opportunities for choice.
Barriers may be obvious. The apartment you want to live in may not have any access ramps for your wheelchair. Or the book you want to borrow from the library might not be available in Braille. Often, however, barriers are less obvious. Misunderstandings and prejudices about disability may prevent you from being offered an educational scholarship or leadership position at work, or you may be overlooked as a potential board member or volunteer. These barriers result in people who are less independent, not because of the existence of a developmental or physical disability itself, but because they are constrained by social and cultural systems of inequity.
Independent Living philosophy is the belief that people with disabilities should not face barriers to the lives they want to lead that are greater than the barriers faced by their neighbors without disabilities. In Tennessee, organizations across the state are working together to promote independent living through the Independent Living Network. These organizations are:
- The Centers for Independent Living
- The Statewide Independent Living Council of Tennessee
Supporting partners to the network are:
- Community volunteers and peer mentors
- Other disability rights organizations whose work honors the Independent Living philosophy, such as The Arc Tennessee, Disability Rights Tennessee, and the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities.
The Centers for Independent Living in Tennessee are spread across the state. The centers have Independent Living specialists who promote Independent Living philosophy by supporting people with disabilities in overcoming barriers to their goals.
- T.A.R.P. Inc. (Training, Advocacy, Referral and Peer Support—Paris, TN
- Jackson Center for Independent Living—Jackson, TN
- Memphis Center for Independent Living—Memphis, TN
- Empower Tennessee—Nashville, TN
- Disability Resource Center—Knoxville, TN
- Tri-State Advocacy and Resource Corp.—Chattanooga, TN
The services provided by Independent Living specialists are as complex and unique as the individuals with disabilities themselves. Specialists may provide information and referrals, so people know where to go and whom to contact to meet their goals. Or IL specialists may provide skills training ranging from using adaptive equipment to managing finances, or from cooking on a budget to hiring a personal attendant. For almost every individual, training includes self-advocacy and systems advocacy skills, which support people in meeting individual needs, as well as shifting policies and practices that impact many people with disabilities. For adults transitioning from nursing homes into community settings or youth transitioning to adulthood, post-secondary education and employment, Independent Living specialists focus on skills necessary to navigate these uniquely complex situations.
The Statewide Independent Living Council of Tennessee’s job is to support the direct work that the Centers for Independent Living provide to individuals by promoting Independent Living philosophies, practices and values across the state. The SILC of TN can be viewed as having two main parts:
- The nonprofit with day-to-day services and activities that support its mission.
- A governing council that plans, supports, and oversees the work of the Independent Living Network.
The nonprofit side if the SILC TN is made up of an executive director, currently me, and support staff. The day-to-day services include educating the community and public leaders about the Independent Living philosophy, providing training and support to the Independent Living Network in Tennessee, and helping with fundraising and grant-writing for expanding Independent Living practices in Tennessee.
The governing side of the SILC TN is the council. The SILC TN’s council members are appointed by the governor and are Tennesseans with diverse disabilities and advocates for people with disabilities from across the state. The council supports and oversees the work of the SILC TN and participates every three years in developing the State Plan for Independent Living in collaboration with the Tennessee Division of Rehabilitation Services. The council then monitors, reviews, and evaluates the state plan’s implementation. The council also coordinates activities with the State Rehabilitation Council, which acts as the voice of individuals with disabilities and other stakeholders in the VR program, and with other councils to address issues affecting Tennesseans with disabilities.
In line with Independent Living philosophy, Centers for Independent Living and the Statewide Independent Living Council of Tennessee strictly adhere to federal guidelines requiring at least 51% of the employees and boards of directors are people with disabilities. This guidance provides the structure to offer programs for people with disabilities by people with disabilities.
The Centers for Independent Living and the Statewide Independent Living Council would not be able to achieve their missions without the collaboration of other community partners like TennesseeWorks, Disability Rights Tennessee, The Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities, and The Arc Tennessee on large systemic issues, and the active participation of community volunteers and peer mentors. Peer mentors play important roles in sharing the successes of Independent Living and enhancing other individuals’ ability to live independently as well. Following “Peer Mentor” training, peer mentors may provide support or assistance to an individual seeking assistance from a Center for Independent Living or to a small group. Also, peer mentors may host community events that share Independent Living skills and allow for fun and camaraderie.
Community volunteers also play diverse roles in the Centers for Independent Living and the Statewide Independent Living Council. Volunteers may attend advocacy events like Disability Day on the Hill where they educate the members of the state legislature about the impact of policies on people with disabilities. Alternatively, volunteers may provide direct services to the Independent Living Network, like gathering supplies or donations to be used by individuals at a Center for Independent Living, or assisting SILC staff with large newsletter or fundraiser mailings.
If you are interested in supporting Independent Living, please don’t hesitate to email me at the SILC TN at LinnetOverton@silctn.org. You can be placed on our mailing list receive notices of upcoming opportunities, or you contract the Center for Independent Living closest to you.