Mary Pat Bradley has been thinking of moving out of her parent's home in McLean. Not that she isn't comfortable there, but she is 34 years old, and most of her brothers and sisters have already gone off on their own.
But until recently, the prospect for Bradley - who has a master's degree in education and works at the Congressional Information Service in Bethesda - has been frightening. Because she is a paraplegic, leaving home when her family might no longer be able to provide the help she needs in getting up and down stairs or cooking or getting dressed, could only mean going to an institution.
"I can't think of a worse alternative," she said. "It would mean an automatic, constrained, regimented life, with a stupendous lack of privacy.
"Every time society institutionalizes someone, it raises society's expenses, and the negative attitude towards that person increases accordingly.
"You are treated as a patient, a sick person. You are thrown in with a lot people you didn't people choose - a mixed bag of the retarded, the physically handicapped, the aged and senile. The lack of mental stimulation can't help changing you. Personal intiative, metal perceptiveness, creativity are drained. You can fight it, but only to a degree."
What has changed Bradley's prospects from frightening to exciting is Independent Living for the Handicapped, an organization which hopes to set up residential living run for and by the physically handicapped. With money from a matching grant and from a Grand Auction Party to be held April 30 at the British Embassy, ILH. hopes to establish its first such house in Washington by the end of the year.
Beverly Price, the founder of ULH and chairman of the embassy party, says the first house will be for six disabled adults, a live-in staff member or couple, extra part-time help at peak hours, such as mealtime, and a bus and driver. There would also be a room for a transient - a visitor to the city, or someone whose family is temporarily away. It is to be in the city, "not off in some rural area away from everything," as conventional residential facilities are apt to be.
Staff will be hired, trained, and, if necessary, fired, by the residents. The psychological difference between their employing people to meet their needs, and being cared for according to the ideas of others about what is good for them is fundamental to the idea of Independent Living for the Handicapped.
The house, which will charge $800 a month for room, board and service to those who can afford it and provide also for those who cannot, is to be called Chesire House, after the self-help homes developed in England and throughout the world by Group Capt. Leonard Chesire.
Cheshire is also thinking of expanding his idea to America, and Price says she finds his efforts of enormous help, "when people tell me "It can't be done," and I can point to the Cheshire Homes and say, "Oh yes, it can."
Although Price's son Christopher, 27, who has cerebral palsy, is "the inspiration" for ILH, she does not expect him to be among the residents of the first house. He communicates mostly in Morse code and "I want all six people in the first home to be verbal, so they can talk to Congress, or whoever will listen. By the time we have a second house, I hope they will be able to take a Christopher."
One of the benefits she mentioned would be the absence of the somber attitude towards the disabled held by what she called "The T.A.B. - the Temporarily Able Bodies."
"You either run into hostile paternalism, or total bewilderment," said Bradley. "The idea of the 'active victim' is a paradox, but it's becoming more and more of a reality. Because unless we take it on our shoulders, this pattern is never going to bebroken."