By Alexandra Fradelizio | m/Oppenheim Media Writer
For nearly 50 years, The Center for Independent Living (The CIL) in Berkeley, California has maintained a dual approach: assist individuals with disabilities and educate the public regarding various disabilities. Through bringing together those who have disabilities and those who do not,The CIL aims to “change the way people look at disability, the way we perceive it, and the conversations we have about it,” explained Executive Director Stuart James.
Serving individuals with all disabilities, including those physical, cognitive, and mental in nature, The CIL offers services and counseling to about 500 participants per year. In particular, the dedicated staff helps children transition from high school to begin a career or continue their education in college, all the while reminding them that their disabilities do not negatively influence their potential successes. Additionally, the organization advocates for laws on behalf of those with disabilities while maintaining its “community based” philosophy.
Arguably the most iconic service of The CIL is their “Socialization Through Recreation” program that is offered to participants both with and without disabilities. In partnership with the Harlem Globetrotters, non-disabled individuals use a wheelchair to play basketball alongside those with physical ailments. The program not only encourages participants to learn about various disabilities but it also “gives them an opportunity to understand how people with disabilities see the world,” explained James.
The CIL works continuously to reach more disabled individuals, particularly youth, and is committed to empowering them in their pursuit of leading healthy, successful, and independent lives.
“We tend to focus on making sure kids or people with immediate disabilities have a bigger picture of what their future will be,” said James.
“The potential for them is much greater.”
James, who worked in sports marketing prior to joining The CIL, was born with a disability and has dedicated his life’s work to diminish societal stigmas surrounding people with various physical and mental handicaps. While living in Asia, he witnessed how those with physical and mental disabilities, especially children, were widely disregarded by their communities and often live in hiding for fear of societal disapproval. James thus founded the nonprofit WheelsplusWings in order to show those with disabilities that “the world was open to them.”
As the executive director of The CIL, James continues to improve the organization’s community outreach. In order to help more children increase their quality of life and succeed, the organization is increasing efforts to work with their parents. Overall, The CIL remains committed in “changing the picture” for those with disabilities.
“For a lot of people, I know life might be difficult or challenging,” explained James.
“We’re going to help you get through that.”