Forming an Organizing Committee
In the spring of 1981, several members of Handicaps Unlimited of Northern Virginia (HUNV), a local coalition of citizens with disabilities that was part of a larger statewide organization, were serving on the Fairfax County Committee on the International Year of Disabled Persons (IYDP). One of the IYDP committee’s goals was to establish an independent living center (ILC) for Northern Virginia.
People with disabilities and community activists from Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax, and Falls Church, and a small subcommittee, chaired by Tony Young, a resident of Springfield, formed to plan and write a proposal for an ILC.
The committee’s vision was to establish a community resource center that could:
- assist persons with disabilities to find accessible housing, transportation, and personal assistant services necessary for community living;
- provide independent living skills training, and information about community services and resources serving the disability community;
- inform citizens with disabilities about their rights and provide them with training to enhance their self and group advocacy skills;
- augment and encourage the individual’s efforts through peer counseling and support; and
- provide training and referral of personal assistants through a registry that the center would maintain and update.
Early Independent Living Organizers
The idea of an independent living center for Northern Virginia was based on a concept first devised by a group of individuals with disabilities located in the San Francisco Bay area. They established the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley, and it became the prototype for other centers that were started in communities throughout the country. In 1978, the U.S. Congress passed Title VII of the Rehabilitation Act, which provided monies for a seed grant program to assist states to start community-based independent living centers.
Securing a Sponsor
The committee that prepared the proposal leading to the founding of ECNV was comprised of volunteers who spent nights, weekends, and holidays drafting and redrafting the proposal, and then they presented it to the Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services (DRS). DRS was the only organization in the state that would apply for the federal Title VII funds that could provide monies to start the center.
DRS representatives liked the proposal and worked with the IYDP Committee to submit it to the U.S. Department of Education. Several months of waiting followed, but finally, in September 1981 the center was funded.
Self-empowerment Is the Difference
Consumer empowerment and self-direction in the management and operation of ILCs makes them different from other community agencies providing services to persons who have disabilities. Recognizing that HUNV was itself a consumer-directed organization, DRS decided to award HUNV a contract to operate the independent living center for Northern Virginia, which was named ENDependence Center of Northern Virginia, Inc. (ECNV). The name was chosen to emphasize the center’s mission to end unnecessary dependence by individuals with disabilities and to encourage them to take control of their own lives through self-directed decision-making. Since HUNV was a consumer-run advocacy organization, DRS was assured that people with disabilities would be involved in the management and operation of the center, as is required by Title VII of the Rehabilitation Act.
A Grand Opening
The actual date of ECNV’s Grand Opening celebration was Thursday, April 1, 1982. It was a lively, community affair, well attended by persons with a wide variety of disabilities, political leaders, government agency staff, volunteers, community activists and local service providers from non-profit and for-profit business communities. HUNV successfully operated ECNV for three years from 1982 until the end of 1984. In January 1985, ECNV was incorporated as a freestanding, not-for-profit corporation and HUNV relinquished its formal affiliation with the center.
Advocating for People with Disabilities
With our geographic proximity to the nation’s capital, advocacy by ECNV staff and volunteers over the years has been instrumental in securing the enactment of local, state, and federal legislation that ensures the civil rights of persons with disabilities including:
- The Fairfax County Human Rights Ordinance (1982),
- The Virginians with Disabilities Act (1985),
- The Voting Rights Act for Persons with Disabilities (1986),
- The Virginia Human Rights Act (1988),
- The U.S. Fair Housing Act Amendments of 1988,
- The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA),
- The Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1992 and 1998; and
- The Ticket-to-Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999.
In recent years, ECNV has collaborated with other Virginia CILs and the Disability Services Boards (DSBs) to successfully advocate for adoption of legislation by the Virginia General Assembly that has significantly increased the services available to assist Virginians with disabilities.
- HJR 125 which lead to the establishment of a consumer-directed, personal attendant services option in Virginia’s Medicaid home and community-based services waiver program, giving persons with disabilities and seniors the choice of managing and directing their own services;
- The legislation authorizing for the Virginia Assistive Technology Loan Fund, a public-private partnership that provides guaranteed, low-interest loans so that individuals with disabilities can purchase needed assistive technology for home, work and school;
- The Virginia Assistive Technology Device Warranty Act, also known as the Virginia Assistive Technology Lemon Law, which ensures warranty protection is provided when persons with disabilities and seniors buy assistive technology products manufactured and sold in Virginia;
- and Authorizing legislation for the Visitability-Accessibility Tax Credit that allows homeowners to receive a tax credit of up to $500 in any taxable year for home modifications that make a dwelling more accessible to individuals with disabilities.
Expanding to Serve Other Communities
In 1997, working with local DSBs, ECNV was able to establish a satellite program based in Manassas to serve Fauquier and Prince William Counties and the Cities of Manassas and Manassas Park. In 1999, ECNV’s satellite program became a full-fledged independent CIL, and is now called Independence Empowerment Center. Then, in 2008 ECNV launched another satellite office in Loudoun called Loudoun ENDependence (LEND). ECNV’s catchment areas now include Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun Counties and the Cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, and Falls Church.