How Independent Living Helps Adults With Disabilities

It's heartbreaking, really. People with disabilities often are raised in supportive environments, not least of all because of the support networks that center around public schools — clubs, friends, athletics, etc. But then they grow up, and without family assistance, they may not have a lot of options. It's hard to find a job or a place to live; it's hard to maintain a basic sense of dignity.

I can speak to these difficulties firsthand. My sister Ruthie, 28, has autism, and while she's happy volunteering with the elderly and living with our parents, she dreams of making enough money to support herself and to live independently.

So it is heartening to me to see the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation working to promote independent living among people with disabilities. (See RWJF: Grants for Public Health.) RWJF is pursuing this goal by supporting the Philadelphia-based Inglis Foundation to the tune of $150,000. The Inglis Foundation provides an array of services — including day programs, life coaching, and employment assistance — to support the surrounding community of people with disabilities. This particular grant is a big deal for Inglis. According to the group's 2012 annual report, its donors tend to be individuals, with grants usually coming in at under $1,000 each.

The RWJF/Inglis partnership has implications beyond this single grant because the intention here is to develop an independent-care model for people with disabilities. As anyone familiar with disability rights knows, a widely applicable template for independent living is sorely needed in the community. While there are any number of mostly small and locally based organizations that serve adults with disabilities, creating a replicable model to unite and guide the various actors — and the beneficiaries of their services — could have a tremendous impact on a lot of people's well-being. (See RWFJ: Grants for Mental Health.)

I'm picturing a world where someone with a disability can get out of high school or turn 18 and have an actual guide regarding what to do next and what their options are. Will that happen? I don't know. But it's great to see RWJF and the Inglis Foundation giving it a shot.

Interestingly, of the many public health-related grants the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has given in 2013, this grant appears to be the only one so far devoted to the well-being of people with disabilities. However, nonprofits devoted to helping this population, take heart. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation continues to accept grant proposals for 2013. While none of the posted calls for proposals explicitly relate to disability issues, RWJF updates its site regularly, and if the partnership with the Inglis Foundation proves effective, there could be room in the future for more projects in this area.