During the late 1960s and early 1970s, a new concept related to rehabilitation and improvements in quality of life began to emerge and be expressed by people with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities. This concept, independent living, is the foundation of the independent living movement, which has helped to overcome the barriers to a higher quality of life for disabled people. Of the many organizations and programs set up to provide support for disabled people living in the community, the independent living program seems to be comparatively successful at facilitating independence by people with spinal cord injuries. Independent living programs provide the kind of community-based support services necessary to expand the range of living options for disabled people beyond those traditionally available in most communities.
The role of occupational therapists in the independent living stage of the rehabilitation process can be similar in some respects to their role during earlier phases of medical rehabilitation. However, the definition of independence as a “mind process” leads to considerable expansion of the therapist’s role beyond the focus on physical skills, which are usually key priorities during medical rehabilitation. Occupational therapists typically possess knowledge and skills that equip them well for assisting clients in the independent living stage of the rehabilitation process.