Independent living skills are learned and developed by people as they get older. These skills help individuals get through their daily lives as independently as possible.

When you’re caring for a person with a disability, you may feel very protective of them. This may lead to you managing nearly every aspect of their daily lives, without giving them the chance to be more independent.

Promoting independent living skills for individuals with disabilities helps the person under your care tackle daily challenges on their own and make their own decisions. 

As a carer, allowing the person under your care to handle things on their own can be difficult, and you may worry about how they’ll take it, but this is an integral step in enriching their lives and making them feel empowered.

Helping the person under your care develop these important skills is a gradual process, so let’s look at how you can promote independent living skills for individuals with disabilities.

Start one step at a time

If the person under your care has been entirely dependent on you or their loved ones for their daily tasks, it’s important to introduce them to new daily activities slowly. Trying to teach multiple life skills at once could make them feel overwhelmed.

Depending on their disability, start with simple daily tasks; the person under your care take their time to understand what they need to do and how they wish to approach a task.

If the person under your care has an intellectual disability, make sure to explain each step of a particular task step by step clearly. For someone with a hearing impairment, you could try writing down the steps for them and placing the instructions where they can easily see them.

Let them become confident in a particular skill. Once you feel they’ve become proficient in the said skill, move on to a new one and give them adequate time to adapt to it.

As they learn a new daily living skill one step at a time, the person under your care will start becoming more independent, and eventually, they may start seeking more responsibilities and new skills to learn.

Support, do not control

Sometimes you may feel the urge to take charge and help them, but, the more you try to manipulate the situation, the fewer opportunities you're giving the person to have control of developing their skills.

The goal is to allow a person with disabilities to become less dependent on their carer—you need to focus more on supporting them. For instance, instead of telling them what they should do, allow them to manage a task their way and only offer them help when they ask for it or when it is absolutely necessary.

Make household activities easier

Due to limitations caused by their conditions, some adults with physical disabilities may have trouble accomplishing certain household activities. In this case, making use of certain assistive devices or making a few changes to their environment may help.

Here are a few ways you could make household activities easier:

  • Install accessible cabinets and drawers they can easily reach.
  • Give them easy to hold cleaning utensils, preferably ones with finger grooves or rubberised grips.
  • Install motion-sensing taps for the kitchen sink to make washing easier.
  • Create a schedule that lists daily activities in the order they need to be done.

When household activities become more accessible, the person under your care will have more confidence in accomplishing tasks independently.

Prepare them for independent travelling

Thanks to transport accessibility (this link takes you to the transportation accessibility page on the Australian government website) in Australia, many individuals with disabilities can now get around by themselves. If the person under your care is fit to travel, training them to travel on their own can be a big step towards them becoming more independent.

Instruct them on public transport schedules and help them identify vehicles that are accessible for people with disabilities, such as public buses with ramps for wheelchairs.

By travelling independently, the person under your care can learn to follow directions to reach important places, such as their doctor’s office. Also, it may allow them to communicate with new people and develop their social skills.

Encourage community participation

Engaging with other members of the community can be a great way for the person under your care to develop their social and communication skills. 

People with disabilities have minimal contact with anyone other than their immediate family or carers. 

By encouraging them to join a community group and take part in community activities, you can help them learn new skills from others and establish meaningful relationships.

These community activities can include charity work or taking part in disability sports and recreational activities (this links to a blog post on disability sports and recreation on the Shine SC website).

Participation in community activities can help the person under your care meet others with disabilities similar to theirs. They can find ways to improve living skills that they’ve already learned through them. 

Before introducing the person under your care to a new community group, see how the people in the community interact with each other and decide if the group is suitable for the person under your care.

Look for work opportunities

Through employment, a person with disabilities may learn all kinds of daily living skills, such as decision making, problem-solving, budgeting and interpersonal skills.

Speak with the person under your care about what kind of job they would like to do if given the opportunity and do some research on inclusive organisations in your area that are accessible to people with disabilities.

If the person under your care doesn’t feel ready for paid work just yet, see if there are opportunities for volunteer work at charities or environmental organisations for individuals with disabilities. 

Help nurture independent living skills for individuals with disabilities

You want what’s best for the person under your care, and you want them to live their best life. By nurturing the development of their daily living skills, you can help them become more independent.

By working with a disability service provider, you can find new ways to support the person under your care to grow their skills and live their lives the way they choose to.

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