If You Don’t Know Your History, It Is Like a Leaf that Doesn’t Know It Is Part of a Tree

Comments to the Disability Network West Michigan Board of Directors, December 2014

By Darma Canter

I have always had a disability but it didn’t start controlling my life until I was in my 40s; then it took my money, then my job, and nearly my dignity self-worth. My MRS counselor helped me get a job at the Lakeshore CIL. So, my education in the disability perspective began.

The CIL and my peers in Muskegon transformed my life view and restored my spirit.

As Peter Block expresses it, the disability community created the structure of belonging; belonging gave me respect and dignity and purpose. I’ve spent the last twenty years in a sustaining relationship with this CIL.

My experience is an example of a Center for Independent Living working in its best capacity, building community and empowering individuals with disabilities. That is why I am here, in this fight. 

Isaac Asimov said, “If you don’t know your history, it is like a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.” I’m going to use that metaphor to explore the history and vision of the IL movement.

A tree is anchored to the earth with its roots. Independent living is a grass roots movement; the CIL is a movement of people with disabilities for people with disabilities. The roots of our tree represent millions of Americans with disabilities and secure us to our philosophical base. The roots are the source of our history and our future.

The trunk is the conduit that feeds the tree passing nutrients up from the roots. Every year a new generation grows upon the last; it is our heritage that makes us strong.

We might imagine the State Independent Living Councils are 50 branches supporting 600 Centers for Independent Living, the leaves might represent Board, staff and volunteers. All the parts of the tree are interdependent; all needed for a healthy, dynamic plant.

The first 20 years of the disability rights and IL movement produced federal legislation – Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the creation of CILs in the Amended Rehab Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Consider those civil rights laws the power source. CILs use the civil rights laws to guarantee citizens with disabilities the opportunity to fully engage in the benefits of community.

1 thought on “If You Don’t Know Your History, It Is Like a Leaf that Doesn’t Know It Is Part of a Tree

  1. Our CIL has chosen a business model that thwarts civil rights advocacy. People with disabilities in Muskegon County face barriers to education and employment. Even though the Americans with Disabilities Act protects us from job discrimination, it happens all the time. Advocacy could challenge the job descriptions and requirements that exclude us by listing things totally unrelated to the job performance. Yes, workers who never or very infrequently leave the job site are required to have a driver’s license; think how many otherwise qualified people with disabilities might be ineligible to apply.
    Why won’t our CIL lead the challenge to end blatant discrimination? Maybe they value their friends at the chamber or rotary or donors more than they value justice?


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