Disabled Women Make History: Lou Ann Kibbee

Posted by Stephanie Woodward in Life After Paralysis on October 12, 2022 # Disabled Women Make History

Lou Ann“Nothing drives a person more than personal experience!”

“The fact is people with disabilities are still not being given the services they need to live in the community where they choose. There are still waiting lists for services. There is not enough healthy, accessible, affordable housing. Too many people are going without the equipment they need, “said Lou Ann Kibbee, a proud disabled woman, motorcycle enthusiast, and Disability Rights advocate from rural Kansas. “I have the heart and the fire to advocate for these issues because I have experienced it. Nothing drives a person more than personal experience!”

Lou Ann is the Systems Advocacy Manager at the Southeast Kansas Independent Living Resource Center (SKIL), where she advocates for the rights of people with disabilities living in the community or wanting to live in the community. She serves on numerous coalitions and is a policy watchdog to alert advocates when action is needed on issues that could have an impact on people with disabilities living independently.

Lou Ann’s passion for Disability Rights advocacy began shortly after she was injured. In 1977, just 10 months after she acquired her disability, she left for college - her college was known as “The college in Kansas for people with physical disabilities.” At college, she got involved in Disability Rights for the first time, serving as the Secretary of the Handicapped Students Association.

“At the end of the year, I went back home and still had that ‘itch’ for advocacy. There was a newly formed group called the Western Kansas Association on Concerns of the Disabled (WKACD). I soon got involved with this small but mighty group,” Lou Ann shared. “Our first goal was to improve transportation for people with disabilities in Hays, Kansas. The only way was up for us as there was no accessible transportation available and no public transportation at all.”

WKACD’s advocacy efforts paid off. They convinced the Easter Seals to give them a full-size van with a manual ramp and worked with the Vice President of Student Affairs at the local university to use work study students as van drivers.

“And just like that, we were off—ACCESS Transportation was ready and soon running,” Lou Ann smiled. Today, ACCESS Transportation paratransit is running stronger than ever in the City of Hays.

Lou AnnIt was through her advocacy work that Lou Ann met her first disabled woman mentor. “One of the founding members of WKACD was Barb Schleich, a woman with a disability who had a soft voice but made up for it in persistence and fire to see changes to assure people with disabilities could live the way they chose. She really started a fire in me to fight for disability rights.”

After Barb passed away, Lou Ann attended her first National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) conference and became more interested in women who were leading. While Lou Ann never dreamed, she could be a leader, her memories of Barb drove her forward.

“Barb had what she needed in her life, but she was advocating for other people with disabilities so their lives could improve. She was the first person to embed that in me: No matter how comfortable we are with our own needs being met; we must fight for the rights of others to have what they need. Consequently, I have served on numerous boards, including serving 21 years on the NCIL Board including as President.”

As busy as Lou Ann is, she still makes time to have fun. She’s been with her husband, Larry, for 30 years, and together, they have three grandkids that they love to spend time with. They also love to ride their Harleys. In fact, Larry has built Lou Ann two different motorcycles: the first was a motorcycle that Larry drove with a wheelchair accessible sidecar for Lou Ann, and a few years later, Larry built her a wheelchair accessible trike that she can drive from her wheelchair!

“Riding in the wind is great therapy and a stress reliever!” said Lou Ann.

Today, Lou Ann is looking forward to spending more time with her family and focusing on her hobbies as she has her eye toward retirement. Looking back on her lifetime, Lou Ann shared her best advice for disabled girls and women:

“Never limit your dreams on what you can do. Forty-six years ago, I never would have thought I would have all the experiences I have had in my life. As I would meet goals in my life, I learned that I had to keep setting new goals to continue moving forward. Girls and women with disabilities should know that you can set your goals and move forward. If you see something that interests or intrigues you, check it out because it might be your next step.”

Stephanie Woodward is an attorney and Executive Director of Disability EmpowHer Network, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering girls and women with disabilities. Stephanie is passionate about seeking justice for marginalized communities - and has an arrest record to show for it. As a proud disabled woman and civil rights activist, Stephanie is committed to bringing more women and girls with disabilities to the forefront through mentoring and activism.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.