Maria standing next to a portrait of herself meeting with Governor Cuomo

Maria Dibble entered the disability rights arena in the early 1980s, a time when “accessibility” was little more than a word in the dictionary for those outside the disability community.  In New York’s Southern Tier, that began to change when Maria, newly graduated from college, rejected suggestions that she seek employment in a sheltered workshop and co-founded the Southern Tier Independence Center (STIC).  For the first time, area residents with disabilities had a local resource and voice to bring their concerns to policymakers and the public.

As STIC has grown, so has Maria’s career as a savvy leader and a seasoned advocate for the rights of individuals with disabilities. She was on the front lines in Washington during the battle for passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Maria and her fellow advocates’ tireless work came to fruition when President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA into law in 1990.  Maria took momentum from the ADA’s passage and used it to advance key components of the independent living mission, including deinstitutionalization, supported employment, and consumer directed personal assistance (CDPA). She was a leader in the Association on Independent Living, one of the entities leading the charge for a statewide CDPA Program.  And she continues to defend CDPA against attacks from legislators, budget hawks, and the profit-seeking medical-industrial complex.

Maria was appointed to the New York State Independent Living Council (NYSILC) board of directors and served as chair in the early 2000s, when the SILC and state plan were moving in new directions. 

Maria realized there was lack of services for people who have both mental health challenges and developmental disabilities. Existing services for each group treated people as if they belonged in one category, and those with dual diagnoses were shuttled from provider to provider, never getting the care they need.   She recognized that children were especially vulnerable, as many mental health care providers are reluctant to treat them.

In 2004, Maria mobilized the resources of STIC to create the Children’s Mental Health Task Force and address this gap in services by fostering collaboration among voluntary and government agencies, schools, and care providers.  Under Maria’s leadership, the task force created action steps for the near and long-term future, and generated a dozen detailed recommendations to address the issue.  Among Maria’s many accomplishments, this one stands out because it demonstrates the reach of her efforts, illustrates her willingness to tackle complex and challenging issues, and proves her ability to bring a diverse group together for a common purpose. 

Not only has Maria brought about change both locally and globally, she has also inspired and mentored several generations of advocates.  Each of these advocates has gone on to work for change and inspired others to do the same.  This ripple effect ensures that individuals with disabilities in Broome County and beyond will feel the impact of Maria’s work for generations to come.