The two men’s stories illustrate what CILs
strive to do for residents, explains White, who
took on the leadership role at Access Alaska in
Alaska’s CILs were born from a situation
in which a young man, suffering from a spinal cord injury, was placed in a nursing care
facility with residents that were primarily
elderly. It was not the right environment to
meet his needs and ignited a movement that
eventually led to the young man, as well as
several other nursing home residents, finding
housing in an independent living scenario.
“We’re trying to help people get out of assisted living, to get out of nursing homes.
That’s how we got started in Alaska,” White
says. “We’re involved in anything that impacts the full inclusion of people with disabilities and in removing any barriers. It could
be unemployment, it could be attitudes—it’s
ensuring the Americans with Disabilities Act
is fully implemented.
“We are advocates for systems change,” he
and the Funding Scenario
CILs, in an advocacy role, also keep a keen
eye on federal and state legislative actions
like healthcare and tax reform, as both impact funding and support.
“I was on a call today regarding tax reform
and the impact that will have the vulnerable
Alaskans, the elderly, people with disabilities,”
says White. “So, we advocate strongly on any issues that we believe will negatively impact the
populations that we serve.” Legislative actions,
he adds, often create unintentional consequences for those wanting to live on their own.
Every US state has CILs and an oversight
body. In Alaska the oversight body is the
State Independent Living Council (SILC),
a consumer-controlled nonprofit launched
in 1993 within the Alaska Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. In 2002 it became a
nonprofit and its thirteen-member board is
appointed by the governor.
In 2015, according to an annual review
report, the four centers delivered 16, 941 services to 4,075 consumers who accomplished
1,645 goals (ranging from employment to
learning new life skills).
Services are available to all ages, from
infant to elderly, but the majority were provided to those in the twenty-five to fifty-nine
age range and the sixty-and-over population.
Many CIL clients are dealing with a physical disability, but cognitive, hearing, vision,
and mental health issues are also addressed
by services. A “vast majority” of clients live in
their homes and can remain in those homes
and maintain or improve their quality of life
because of CIL services, notes the report.
The centers share a mission statement to
raise community awareness, to remove barriers facing those with physical and mental challenges, to help provide needed and necessary
transportation, and to be an advocate for appropriate disability policy.
The programs rely mostly on federal funds,
such as Medicaid, and some state grant funding and are not regulated by the state’s department of health and social services unless
a state grant is in play.
“State oversight depends on what services
you’re providing,” White explains, giving
the example of personal home care services,
which are supported by a state grant.
Services can sometimes be funded by private health insurance depending on a policy
holder’s plan, but a good majority of CIL funding is federal money. There are some funds via
veteran’s agencies for veteran specific services.
The funding and support scenario, notes
White, is increasingly challenging as Alaska’s
economic plight is more dire each year.
“We are seeing an increase in need with a
decrease in available funding resources because of our state economy as well as an uncertain federal fiscal landscape,” he says.
Who’s Being Helped
As funding remains stagnant, Alaska’s population needing services is growing each year.
White describes the senior population as the
largest growing demographic in the state
and says Alaska is home to one of the fastest
growing senior populations in the country.
“[Federal and state grant funding] has
been flat or cut, which for Alaska, given the
downturn in oil, means we’re scrambling to
make ends meet,” he says, noting the costs of
operating a nonprofit go up due to inflation
and economic changes as they would for any
Despite flat funding Access Alaska is managing to expand services in remote areas—no
small feat as 75 percent of Alaska is without
roads. Many rural communities can only be
accessed by boat or plane, making it difficult
and expensive to provide services.
“Many areas tend to be greatly underserved,” says White, adding rural-based residents that need services often must move to
where services are available.
Access Alaska’s expansion is tied to a grant
awarded to sister organization SAIL. Access
(From left to right)
of Access Alaska;
SILC Board President;
and Doug Toelle,
at Access Alaska,
attending the NCIL
Image courtesy of