Our Mission

Independence Now advocates and embodies independence and equality for all people with disabilities.

About Us

Independence Now is a nonprofit organization designed, governed and staffed by people with disabilities. We are part of a nationwide network of Centers for Independent Living providing the following core services: Information and Referral; Advocacy; Peer Support; Independent Living Skills training, and Transition.

Independence Now is a resource and advocacy center that promotes independent living and equal access for people of all ages with all types of disabilities residing in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties.

We advocate and embody independence and equality for all people with disabilities. We do this by providing support, guidance, training, education and hands-on-skills for the disability community in Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, Maryland. Our vision is that people with disabilities live independent and fully inclusive lives and are recognized by society as equal. We believe that people with disabilities serve as the best guide for other people with disabilities by empowering individual choice and self direction. We value a community built on acceptance and equality for all people. Independence Now values serving a diverse population while educating and collaborating within and beyond the disability community.

Independence Now is an inclusive, affirming, safe space. Read our commitment.

About the Independent Living Movement

As the civil rights movement gained traction in the 1960s, people with disabilities took the opportunity to band together alongside other minority groups and make their demands for equality known. Disability rights activists organized at a local level and developed federal initiatives that would eliminate physical and social barriers the disability community had faced for years. During the 1970s, disability rights activists petitioned Congress and protested in cities across the country to include civil rights language for people with disabilities into the 1972 Rehabilitation Act. In 1973, President Nixon signed the Rehabilitation Act, it was the first legislation of its kind that addressed equal access for people with disabilities through the removal of architectural, employment, and transportation barriers.

Learn more about the Independent Living movement.

Our History

The Prequel

Spring 1994:  It became known that the Rehabilitation Services Administration, U.S. Department of Education, would make funding available to Maryland for a center for independent living (CIL).   The Statewide Independent Living Council with the Division of Rehabilitation Services had designated Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties as the priority areas for a new CIL in the Statewide Independent Living Plan.  

Joanna Clarke, Director of what was then the Division of Disability Resources in Montgomery County, approached Cathy Raggio, then working as a consultant, to develop a CIL to serve Montgomery County.   She also approached Bea Rodgers, then Director of Disability Services in Prince George’s County, about the CIL serving both counties.  Both Directors discussed it with their advisory Commissions who enthusiastically supported it.  During the summer of 1994, Clarke and Rodgers convened a joint planning meeting with representatives of the two Commissions.  Raggio facilitated this meeting to begin developing the plan for the new CIL.

Incorporation and Designation as a CIL

Independence Now was incorporated on July 21, 1994.

In October 1994, Independence Now was awarded a grant by the U.S. Department of Education, Rehabilitation Services Administration to become a Center for Independent Living serving both Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties. Cathy Raggio was the first Executive Director.

Between October and IN’s opening in April 1995, IN’s designation as a 501(c)(3) organization was obtained, as was its MD tax exempt status.  By-laws, financial, personnel and programmatic policies were written, and staff were hired. 

Delivering Services

Independence Now opened its first office in Silver Spring on April 24, 1995 and was fully staffed with a Coordinator of Independent Living Services, an Independent Living Specialist and an Administrative Assistant in addition to the Executive Director.

Within a week, a man who lived in a nursing home and wanted IN’s assistance to move back to the community paid a visit to this office.  Thus, IN began to fill a void, becoming the only organization in the State that assisted people to move from nursing homes to real homes, a service the organization still provides today.

November 1996:  Independence Now received two Community Development Block Grants (CDBG).   The CDBG from the Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Affairs paid for home modifications.   The grant from the Prince George’s County Department of Housing and Community Development enabled IN to hire a Housing Specialist and open a one-person office in the County to assist people in finding affordable and accessible housing and with other housing issues.

Fall 1997:  IN received a grant from the MD Developmental Disabilities Council to establish a statewide benefits counseling hotline.   In 2000, IN was one of the first grantees in the nation receiving funding from the Social Security Administration under the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act for Benefits Planning, Assistance and Outreach, now called Work Incentives Planning and Assistance.   The initial SSA funding was for IN to serve Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, Western MD, Southern MD and the Eastern Shore.  Now it is a statewide project with 2 in-house staff and 4 subcontractors.

1997:   The Governor’s Office for Individuals with Disabilities (GOID) contracted with IN to address MD’s Personal Assistance Services.   IN, with Developmental Disabilities Council funding, had produced a much heralded and widely distributed publication entitled, The Consumer’s Guide to Personal Assistance Services in 1995.   Recognizing IN’s expertise, GOID asked IN to:  1) convene five focus groups around the State comprised of people who used personal assistance services; and 2) convene a roundtable of state officials and people who used personal assistance services.   The goal of both activities was to identify the key elements of an exemplary system of personal assistance services.  One of the important recommendations from this project was for MD to secure a Medicaid Waiver to provide more intensive personal assistance than was available at the time through the other State programs. 

October 1998:  Independence Now was awarded a second grant from the U. S. Department of Education, Rehabilitation Services Administration, to open a full service office located in Prince George’s County to provide the core IL services.  The Independence Now Prince George’s Division opened on February 3, 1999.

Spring 1999:  The Transportation Action Group was formed to advocate for the improvement of the paratransit and fixed-route transit systems for all persons with disabilities.  IN also published transportation resource guides for each county and advocated on many levels to improve transportation.   TAG members became involved with WMATA’s Accessibility Advisory Group. Independence Now began travel training with a pilot project from WMATA in 2010, this program continues today and has 2 staff.

Fall 1999:   IN and the other CILs were a part of two housing grants secured by the MD Department of Human Resources from CMS.   This grant provided IN with a Housing Director and Nursing Facility Outreach Specialist responsible for assisting people to move from nursing facilities to homes of their own in the community and enable IN to expand its nursing facility outreach. 

Fall 1999:   The Prince George’s Department of Housing gave IN a second CDBG for a project called Mod Squad to make home modifications to apartment units occupied by people with disabilities. 

In 2000 the first Maryland Youth Leadership Forum (YLF) was held, training students in their final years of high school on leadership, disability history and culture, advocacy and careers.  Spearheaded by IN, the MD-YLF was a collaborative effort with numerous state agencies, including the MD State Department of Education (both the Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services and Division of Rehabilitation Services), and the Governor’s Office of Individuals with Disabilities (later became the Department of Disabilities). It began as a four day/three night program held on a college campus.  In 2005, an increase in MSDE Special Education funding allowed IN to expand its youth activities and hire a Youth Coordinator.  For about 10 years this was an independent staff position, then in 2015 we moved it into IL services, making it a Youth Coordinator position, wherein halftime is spent on organizing the YLF and half time is spent serving consumers under age 26 in line with the new Transition 5th core service in Independent Living.

Fall 2000:  IN was one of three organizations selected to provide case management services for MD’s new Living At Home Medicaid Waiver.   This work continued for four years.  

In 2007 founding Executive Director Cathy Raggio resigned to become the Secretary of the Maryland Department of Disabilities.  Later that year, Nancy Diehl became the second Executive Director.

Our Assistive Technology program started 2008 providing home environmental assessments and financial support for consumers to make home modifications allowing for increased independence and the ability to remain in one’s own home.

In 2009 the Money Follows the Person outreach to Nursing Facilities began in conjunction with Maryland’s Money Follows the Person Demonstration Grant. This program continued Independence Now’s efforts to reach out to residents of nursing facilities and educate them on community supports and living options. This is a program that has changed over time and beginning in 2012 added 4 regular staff positions that had previously been contractor positions.

Sarah Sorensen became the third Executive Director in November 2010.

In 2010 Independence Now received ARRA stimulus funds which allowed for staff increase in the core Independent Living program.  This added five new staff who directly served consumers, completed outreach or handled the intake process for new consumers.  The roles changed over the 5 years these funds were used and in the end were mainly for Independent Living Specialists positions.

In 2011 agreements were made with the Area Agency on Aging (AAA) in both counties that included  co-locating 2 staff in the local AAA offices part time.  This was part of the state’s ‘No Wrong Door’ efforts to create integrated services for members of the aging and disability communities. Our staff continue to work two days a week in each county office.

In 2015 Independence Now began providing Supports Planning to individuals on the Community Options Medicaid Waiver and other Medicaid long term supports and services.  These services include writing person-centered plans for home services, transitioning individuals from institutional settings and  supporting participants to locate housing.  This program added 2 new staff and will likely double in size in the coming year.

List External Events Impacting the Organization (by year)

  • 1998 applied for IL funding to expand  services to Prince George’s County
  • 2003 Aging and Disability Resource Center work starts ( in Howard and Worchester Counties, later moving statewide)
  • 2007 Money Follows the Person obtained by Maryland.
  • 2010 ARRA Stimulus Funds
  • 2010 WMATA Travel Training Pilot Project
  • 2014 Addition of the 5th Core Service (Transition) as a result of the reauthorization of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
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