Make sure you comply with the minimum requirements. Consumer control is required by all Centers for Independent Living and Statewide Independent Living Councils. Fifty-one per cent of persons on the board of a CIL must self-disclose that they have a significant disability. In addition, 51% of the staff of a CIL and 51% of the management (separate from other staff) of CILs must self-disclose a disability. In the Statewide IL Council members, 51% of members must disclose that they are persons with disabilities, and those who are employees of a CIL or the state do not count in this number. This is the definition applied when a CIL or SILC is reviewed for compliance with the IL Philosophy of Consumer Control.
- Provide board and staff applications to the people you serve. Consumer control is most effective if the individual who knows what is needed in the disability community is invited to participate. A board application, for either the CIL or the SILC, is a great tool for inviting participation from those who approach your CIL for services. The applicants can be considered by the nominating committee or the governor’s office as new members are needed. Usually CILs and SILCs struggle to fill their boards, but if that is not the case and you have more applications than you can use, maybe those who can’t be on the board can serve on a committee.
- Abide by open meeting requirements, if they apply to you. While many states have determined that CILs are not subject to the open meetings laws, SILCs because they are appointed by the Governor, will almost always fall under these laws. Get an Attorney General’s opinion so you clearly know the minimum requirement regarding open meetings in your state.
- Keep you meetings open to the public, even if you aren’t required to do so. Transparency to any consumers who wish to know the operations of the CIL is a key element of building trust. A public comment period to hear from the disability community can be a specific meeting agenda item, and can be limited in time if that helps you have more efficient meetings. You may learn some important things if you consistently listen to consumers.
- Make sure your board, staff and consumers understand IL History and Philosophy. The Independent Living Movement is a movement by people with disabilities. If people with disabilities know our history as a movement, we are better advocates when we serve on the board or staff of a CIL or SILC. Every board of a CIL or SILC should revisit this as training at least once a year. You can find some training resources at http://www.ilru.org/topics/il-history-philosophy or http://www.ilru.org/il-history-and-philosophy-orientation-for-il-staff
- Make sure that the philosophy of consumer control is carried out in the services provided. You may have heard the slogan, “Nothing about us without us!” This applies to all aspects of life — legislation, regulation, service development, service delivery and especially as an individual is developing their own plan for living independently. There is no place for CIL staff to be in control of services.
- Open up your center as a gathering place for the disability community. Centers were never intended to be service delivery only. Where do you think the core services of advocacy and peer support came from? When Centers have a vibrant youth program or peer support activities, you can often trace the success back to the fact that the Center is the gathering place for the disability community. We are a community and a movement and must hold on to those values first, or any services delivered will fall short of what they should be.
- Conduct leadership training for youth and other persons interested, not just in being on your board, but having a voice in other councils or boards in the community that affect things like transportation, housing, emergency preparedness, and other areas where people with disabilities want a voice. Encourage leadership development.
- Encourage current leaders to mentor others. We believe in peer to peer support, and a very valuable area of peer support is in matching a established board or council member with the new recruit so that their questions can be answered and they can be more comfortable in their new role.
Consumer control is required in the Rehabilitation Act, as amended, as an essential component of Independent Living Philosophy.