IL Blog: My Journey to Independent Living

Susie Angel

August 27, 2014

When I was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy in 1970, my doctor told my mom to treat me as normally as possible, and that’s what she did. Throughout school, I was mainstreamed into regular classes and had to do everything my friends did. In fact, I had a reputation as an overachiever who always ruined the bell curve for everyone else and made the honor roll almost every semester.  

At home though, Mom did everything for me because it was easier and much faster. It wasn’t until I was in my teens that I starting doing some of these things myself. For example, when I was 15, my physical therapist asked why I wasn’t dressing myself. When I didn’t have a legitimate reason, she gave me a couple tips that made it easier and told Mom that she had to let me do it. Starting to do these things made me believe that I would live on my own one day.

In my senior year of high school, I decided that I wanted to go to the University of Texas at Austin. Texas Rehabilitation Commission (TRC) agreed to pay my tuition, room and board on campus, and books after I used my grant money. They also agreed to pay for a live-in personal care attendant. I thought this was the perfect scenario, but little did I know…


The first 18 months at U.T. was one of the hardest times of my life. Like most college students, I learned a lot about money and time management, personal responsibility, and better study techniques. On top of all that though, in order for me to survive, I also had to develop other skills: 


After two months of recovery, I enrolled at ACC. I felt like I was taking a giant step backwards. Not only was I only going to a community college, but I was back to living with my parents. Now, I love my parents and they were wonderful. But after that first taste of independence, there was no going back.

Thankfully, a friend told me about Herndon House, a year-long residential independent living program. Before I knew it, I was moving in, and over the next year, I learned how to:

It was amazing to do all this while successfully attending ACC classes, especially after having such a hard time at U.T.

Six months before I finished my contract with Herndon House, I learned that a childhood friend who also has CP was moving to Austin. I helped him find an apartment, get hooked up with the services he needed, and taught him things that I had learned in Herndon House. We ended up moving in together and 22 years later, we're still at it, with each other’s support.


My journey to independent living isn't unique. For a lot of people with any kind of disability (mild or significant), it can be done. The key is to find a way to transition from childhood into adulthood in the least stressful environment. With that, well, you can see what's possible. 

About Susie

A woman with red glasses smiles at the camera.Susie has an Associate's Degree in Communications from Austin Community College and a Bachelor's in Magazine Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. She joined CTD as a VISTA in 2010 and joined the staff as a part-time employee in 2012. She edits and writes for the monthly e-newsletter, co-coordinates Pen 2 Paper, and heads up CTD's research department. Read Susie's full bio.

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