In January of 1988 a handful of people came together in northwest Wisconsin, guided by a vision that people with disabilities had a right to lives of dignity, accessibility and inclusion. As the result of that meeting, and with the vision, support and sponsorship of Catholic Charities Bureau, North Country Independent Living was incorporated on March 22nd, 1988, with a mission to empower people with disabilities to live as independently as possible in our communities.
Over the last three decades we’ve grown from a staff of three people serving six counties, to a staff of 17 people serving eight counties and four tribal communities. When we started we offered the four core services that anchor the independent living philosophy: Information and Referral, Advocacy, Peer support and Independent Living Skills Training, but we’ve expanded to include a fifth core service, Transition, helping people in nursing homes and other institutions to return to their homes, and assisting youth with disabilities as they transition into adulthood, be it the workplace or post-secondary education.
In 1988 the Americans with Disabilities Act was still a dream. It was legal to refuse to hire people with disabilities who were otherwise qualified for jobs. There was no guarantee that polling places would be accessible so that people with disabilities could exercise their right to vote, or that public transportation would be accessible so that people could ride the bus, or that restaurants and theaters would be accessible so that people could enjoy dinner and a movie.
A lot has changed over the last three decades, and we’ve been a big part of that change. Today you can vote in an accessible location with an accessible voting machine. City buses have lifts, and streets have usable curb cuts. People with disabilities are in the workplace, in public office, own businesses and have begun integrating into every aspect of community and public life. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go!
So please join us at the Spooner Senior Center, 402 Oak St on Thursday, May 3rd from 1:00 pm - 4:00 pm to celebrate North Country’s first 30 years. We’ll have cake, coffee and lots of information about our various programs and services that help people with disabilities live full, inclusive and productive lives.
We’re looking forward to the next 30 years!
For more information, you can call Steve Carlson at 715-919-4932 or go to www.northcountryil.org