In most countries, proponents of the IL Movement claim preconceived notions and a predominantly medical view of disability contribute to negative attitudes towards people with disabilities, portraying them as sick, defective and deviant persons, as objects of professional intervention, as a burden for themselves and their families, dependent on other people’s charity. These images, in the IL analysis, have consequences for disabled people's opportunities for raising families of their own, getting education and work, which, in turn, result in persons with disabilities making up a large portion of the poor in any country.
In the Independent Living philosophy, disabled people are primarily seen as citizens and only secondarily as consumers of healthcare, rehabilitation or social services. As citizens in democratic societies, the IL Movement claims, persons with disabilities have the same right to participation, to the same range of options, degree of freedom, control and self-determination in every day life and life projects that other citizens take for granted. Thus, IL activists demand the removal of infrastructural, institutional and attitudinal barriers and the adoption of the Universal Design principle. Depending on the individual’s disability, support services such as assistive technology, income supplements or personal assistance are seen as necessary to achieve equal opportunities. As emphasized by the IL Movement, needs assessment and service delivery must enable users to control their services, to freely choose among competing service providers and to live with dignity in the community. Cash benefits or Direct Payments are favored by IL activists over services in kind in terms of the outcomes for users’ quality of life and cost-efficiency.
Over the years, the IL Movement has spread from North America to all continents, adapting itself to and getting enriched by different cultures and economic conditions in the process. A considerable body of research, training materials and examples of good practice exists on such themes as transition from institutional to community living, transition from school to employment or self-employment, community organizing and advocacy, disability culture, girls and women with disabilities as well as disability and development. Supporting the movement and utilizing its work has become an important ingredient of many countries’ social policy.
"Independent Living does not mean that we want to do everything by ourselves, do not need anybody or like to live in isolation. Independent Living means that we demand the same choices and control in our every-day lives that our non-disabled brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends take for granted. We want to grow up in our families, go to the neighborhood school, use the same bus as our neighbors, work in jobs that are in line with our education and interests, and raise families of our own. We are profoundly ordinary people sharing the same need to feel included, recognized and loved." Dr. Adolf Ratzka,
According to the IL Movement, with peer support, everyone - including persons with extensive developmental disabilities - can learn to take more initiative and control over their lives. For example, peer support is used in Independent Living Skills classes where people living with their families or in institutions learn how to run their everyday lives in preparation for living by themselves.
Depending on the public services in the community, Centers might assist with housing referral and adaptation, personal assistance referral, or legal aid. Typically, Centers work with local and regional governments to improve infrastructure, raise awareness about disability issues and lobby for Disability legislation and prohibits discrimination.