Communities Actively Living Independent & Free (CALIF) is an independent living center, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that provides advocacy programs and services for people with disabilities primarily residing within the 50 zip codes of Los Angeles County covering south and central Los Angeles and neighboring communities.
Message from the Founder & Executive Director
Welcome and thank you for coming to our CALIF website!
If we had a family tree, you can trace us to Ed Roberts who headed the Rolling Quads of UC Berkeley, a group of students in wheelchairs who demanded more access on campus and who founded the Disability Rights Movement in the mid-70s. That generated over 300 independent living centers (ILC) in the United States and thousands more all over the world.
In the mid 80’s, my friends and I were very busy advocates fighting for accessible public transit. We travelled with ADAPT all over the country and Canada, getting arrested and demanding the use of wheelchair accessible buses. Then we got busy pushing for the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. On both counts, we won. I personally witnessed the power of the Disability Rights Movement—finally, the world was listening. We were no longer the passive “patients” needing care and treatment. With a bullhorn on one hand and a protest sign on the other and in large numbers, we made demands in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.’s non-violent civil disobedience and compelled changes to the physical environment, schools, the work place, the public square and wherever we were and are present.
I was an ILC consumer of the former Westside Center for Independent Living in the late 90’s when the Department of Rehabilitation announced the Request for Proposals for the establishment of the ILC for Central Los Angeles. We were young and green but as people with disabilities, we certainly understood the need for Independent living services. I ventured to start CALIF with our group IHSS Recipients And Providers Sharing (IRAPS) and answered the bid. We were awarded the grant in September 2001 and started setting up from a tiny room of barely 300 square feet on 9th Street and Broadway. Many did not think we would make it. Some even thought that we would fall flat on our faces on our third year. But like the little train that could, we made it past our 3rd, 4th, and 5th year. Fast forward a couple more years and here we are now, our 20th year implementing 18 grant programs.
What good is a home where you can barely function? At CALIF, we do transitions, from restrictive to less-restrictive environments so that people with disabilities are able to live a full life of their own choosing. CALIF is not a residential facility but we help the disabled find accessible and affordable homes. Seven years ago, we won a major lawsuit which would build and/or rehab 4,250 accessible and affordable apartments for our disability population. Just this week, we were happy to witness Edgar’s excitement over his new apartment after being homeless for years. Last month, we testified before a housing committee to stop their plan to lessen the percentage requirements for accessible units for those with mobility, sight and hearing disabilities.
Through benefits advocacy, we help people apply for SSI, SSDI, Medicare, IHSS and many other helpful programs for the disabled. We also represent them when they go before an administrative law judge to appeal the negative decisions on their service applications. Even for applications for US citizenship, we offer services on a sliding scale, negotiable when necessary.
Our assistive technology program offers assistance with obtaining medical equipment and gadgets for independent living, home modification, sales and/or loans of equipment; the pick up of donated AT equipment, with cleaning, repair and delivery. We offer Civil Rights and Disability History and Leadership training, individual advocacy, Systems Change advocacy, personal assistance services, peer counseling, independent living skills training, youth and other services.
We also made more inroads in the local transit industry in LA, assisting in the continuous improvement of both the paratransit and public bus systems, plus the private on-call companies like Uber and the taxis. We made legal history when we sued to make changes to the way cities do their emergency planning and their due diligence obligations to maintain sidewalk accessibility. Now, every city in the US has to include the disability voice in emergency preparedness planning. All cities too have to provide accessible sidewalks and fix the old broken ones to allow access.
Today we are making sure that the health care industry includes us, no longer just as mere patients but as policy-makers. We demand our place at their boardrooms to make sure that our needs are not relegated to the sides. Indeed we have arrived and we make sure we celebrate each other but we maintain our vigilance, our enthusiasm and our humility. We never lose sight of the daily lessons of the disability experience, which always offers the balance of tears and laughter, failure and triumph, rejection and acceptance. We look toward a future full of incredible technological breakthroughs and human innovations because we do not allow others to cloud our hope from within. We are people with disabilities leading humanity to a glorious destiny that knows no fear!
CALIF Founder and Executive Director