ECNV: Chance or Choice? Part 3: Beginnings

This is the final post of a series of articles intended as part of ECNV’s celebration of its 40th Anniversary. This first article focuses on the people and events surrounding ECNV’s founding in April 1982.

By Doris Ray, Director of Advocacy

Our goal was to operate a CIL that was modeled after the first CIL in Berkley, California, and build a program that would be guided by the basic components of Independent Living philosophy, which include the belief that:

  • Disability is a natural part of life, and people with disabilities are not merely patients needing to be cured or helpless invalids who are incapable of living outside of institutions;
  • People with disabilities are capable of living independently in the community when they possess the requisite knowledge, skills, abilities, resources, and peer mentoring and support to achieve their own independent living goals;
  • No matter the type or origin of one’s disabilities, most of us share similar experiences of having to navigate a society that devalues our existence, ignores our needs, disparages our achievements, and has traditionally excluded us. Consequently, people with disabilities have valuable insights and practical advice to offer their peers through the provision of peer counseling and other IL services on a cross-disability basis;
  • People with disabilities should have the right to make their own decisions and the right to fail, and having experienced a setback, have support and encouragement to try again, just like anyone else; and
  • People with disabilities should have a mechanism for them to provide consumer control and policy direction in the development and implementation of the services system that serves them.

Several months of start-up activities followed. We had help and guidance from many people, including a steering committee composed of community leaders. One member was Don Beyer, then the President of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce and who is now the U.S. Congressman from the 8th District of Virginia. His business acumen was invaluable.

ECNV opened its doors on April 1, 1982. Yes, that’s right, it was April Fools’ Day! Tony Young, our first ECNV Executive Director, thought it fitting as we were quite the novices venturing out into the unknown.

Later that month, we hosted a grand opening celebration which more than 100 people attended. Tony Young and DRS Commissioner Altamont Dickerson cut the ribbon. And we were off and running!

The Wrap

Little did our group of people with disabilities know when we met that it would lead to starting a non-profit organization run by and for people with disabilities with the aim of empowering each other and our peers to take charge of our own lives and personal destinies. We talked about the need for a law to protect the rights of people with disabilities but never dreamed it would be a reality in 10 short years. Nor did we foresee the organization we founded would still be thriving as an integral part of the disability community 40 years after its founding.

Well, here we are today. Still providing IL Core Services like peer counseling, independent living skills training, information, and referral to community resources and individual and systems advocacy. We’ve added new services like services for youth of transition-age who are moving from post-secondary education to their first job and adult life.

We continue to offer education and training programs on disability issues and provide technical assistance and information to local governments and the business community.

We’re redoubling our outreach efforts to unserved and underserved segments of the community, particularly multiplying marginalized people with disabilities. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, we’ve been offering services virtually, including support groups and webinars.
Despite ECNV’s new leadership and staff and recent programs and services designed to meet the needs of the disability community in the 21st Century. Our mission and commitment are the same: To empower people with disabilities to take charge of their own lives and promote equal access and the civil and human rights of people with disabilities.

So, get involved. It’s your choice – and your future! You have the opportunity to shape the future of ECNV and the lives of people with disabilities! What do you want ECNV to look like a year from now or in 5 years, 10 years, or even 40 years from now. As a consumer-controlled, consumer-run organization, ECNV is YOUR CIL, and it’s up to you to take charge of its future. You’ll be making a worthwhile commitment!