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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

Changing What We Know About Disability: Crowd Sourcing Independent Living Skills

By Michael Bullis, Executive Director of the IMAGE Center of Maryland (Towson, MD)

In Centers for Independent Living, one of our five core services is the teaching of independent living skills. Not only do we struggle with how to help somebody optimize their independence given the hundreds of disability combinations, so too do Occupational Therapists, VR Counselors, Special Education teachers, and each person with a disability.

The thing the person who has just acquired a spinal cord injury wants to know is: How do I get my life back? How do I change my baby’s diaper? Drive? Cook? Take out the garbage? Have sex?

Most people with a disability have never met anybody with their same set of limitations. That means that they can’t learn the way humans learn virtually everything we know – imitation. Yes, we all learn what we do every day by seeing someone do something and then doing it ourselves. Take a way this simple process of imitation and most of us aren’t successful in life. The few of us who can make up a life for ourselves are the exceptions, not the rule.

Sadly, when one person solves the problem of how to put on a diaper with the use of three fingers on one hand and a thumb and one finger on the other, that information is transmitted to no one else. The knowledge is re-invented, or not, as thousands of people confront the same problem throughout the world.

The problem is further confounding because disability sends so many messages of can’t do. The assumption, far more often than not, is that the task can’t be done and the person must live without the ability, believing that disability means half a life. The few creative people who develop solutions are regarded as special, heroes, and amazing, and the solutions they create are seldom seen by anyone else.

With the modern web we can change all that. We can crowd source the experiences of millions of people throughout the world to create a user contributed library of disability skills. What one person figures out in Indiana will be available to another person in France. And, when somebody in Australia sees the solution and has a better idea, they can submit that to the library as well, finally creating the knowledge sharing portal that every culture must have in order to grow.

Establishing the site and publicizing it will cost about $3.5 million. The IMAGE Center of Maryland is seeking motivated individuals and Centers to help us turn this project into a reality.

Please take a look at our demo site at:

Let us know how you want to help so we can include your idea in our funding plan. For more information, contact Mike Bullis at or 443-275-9394.

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