Independent Living for People With Disabilities

with Reyma McCoy McDeid of the National Council on Independent Living

From grassroots activism to federal legislation, disability rights have become more visible in the U.S. over the past 30 years.

Reyma McCoy McDeid, Executive Director of the National Council on Independent Living, joins host Tetiana Anderson to share how today, independent living advocates envision a society in which people with disabilities achieve full integration, independence, and civil rights.

Posted on:

October 1, 2021

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: Historically, people with disabilities were often separated from the general population, housed in institutions throughout the country. In the 20th century, disability issues became more visible in mainstream America, resulting in federal legislation and activism, including the National Disability Rights and Independent Living movements. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Independent living advocates for a society in which people with disabilities achieve full integration, independence, and civil rights. And joining me to talk about this very important topic is Reyma McCoy McDeid. She is the executive director of the National Council on Independent Living. And Reyma, thanks for being here. McCoy

McDeid: Thank you,Tetiana. I'm thrilled to be with you today.

Anderson: So, this is all personal for you as a person who is living with autism. I'm wondering how that perspective really helps you in approaching how to help other people also achieve independent living. McCoy

McDeid: That's a great question, Tetiana. As an autistic person, the work that I do isn't just a job, it's my life, and it's informed by my own personal experiences with attempting to engage with the systems in our country to ensure that my -- my needs associated with my disability are met. And so I use that personal experience to inform how I work to ensure that the barriers that I've experienced are not experienced by others who are attempting to get their needs met as well.

Anderson: You talk about experience and what you've gone through and what that does for your work, and there has been a shift over time, as I'm sure you've seen, in what independent living has meant historically. So, you know, what your parents dealt with, they were people who were living with disabilities versus what you've gone through over the years versus what people are going through now has changed. And I'm wondering what your perspective is on what the change has been. McCoy

McDeid: Yeah, my parents' generation experienced the shift from the default setting for people with disabilities being living in institutions to living in the community. And in the '70s and '80s, that meant that people with disabilities were living in group homes, in their parents' houses, and in the community, but not necessarily independently. And so the shift has -- has sort of propelled people with disabilities from being integrated kind of in a peripheral sense to being integrated in a real, meaningful, substantial sense. People with disabilities living independently in our own homes, in our own apartments, working, paying taxes, that kind of thing. And there's still work that needs to be done, but we certainly have come a long way in the past generation or so.

Anderson: So, you say there's still work that needs to be done. So what does full integration, independence, and civil rights look like for those who are living with disabilities once this mission is achieved? I mean, what do they have to do? What are some of the things that they need to get to make that happen? McCoy

McDeid: We are -- We are experiencing a shift from people with disabilities being tokenized, being included kind of in a -- in a very superficial way to people with disabilities becoming peers, becoming colleagues, becoming present wherever decisions are being made that -- that impact people with disabilities. And as the largest marginalized group in the country, anywhere decisions are being made, people with disabilities are being impacted, and we really are working to ensure that everybody in the country understands that people with disabilities are not just impacted by health care decisions. People with disabilities want clean water and safe schools for their children, too. And so that's -- that's the message that we continue to drive today in the hopes that tomorrow people with disabilities really, truly are fully included.

Anderson: So you do see a crossover with civil rights and disability rights, and I'm wondering if you can delve a little bit deeper into that for those who might not be aware of that connection. McCoy

McDeid: Absolutely. There absolutely is a crossover between civil rights and disability rights, simply because disability rights includes people with disabilities who are also people of color, and civil rights also include people of color who are also people with disabilities. I think that that fact often is not taken into consideration when we're discussing people with disabilities or people of color. You know, people can exist at more than one intersection, and -- and that is the work of inclusion that really needs to be happening today to ensure that people with disabilities who are also people of color are having their needs met as well.

Anderson: And, Reyma, if people want to find out more about your organization, about the work you do, what's the website? Where can they go? McCoy

McDeid: People are welcome to find us at That's

Anderson: Reyma McCoy McDeid of the National Council on Independent Living, thank you so much for being here. McCoy

McDeid: Thank you, Tetiana. It's been a real pleasure.

Anderson: And thanks to our viewers as well for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, log on to I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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