Director’s Column

Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month is Here

By Director Barbara Palmer

Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month is celebrated in March, which also marks the beginning of the Florida Legislative Session this year. As director of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD), it is important that I highlight the great things that Floridians with developmental disabilities are doing in our state. Now is also the time to share the needs we hope the Legislature will fund when they pass their final budget.

APD helps people with seven developmental disabilities: severe forms of autism, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, Down syndrome, Phelan-McDermid syndrome, and Prader-Willi syndrome. APD offers services which help them actively live, learn, and work in their communities. These individuals with disabilities have much to offer when given the opportunity.

On March 14, Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet will consider a resolution, sponsored by Attorney General Pam Bondi, to declare March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month in our state. The Cabinet will hear from Adam Longfellow, who works at the Chick-fil-A restaurant on Bradfordville Road in Tallahassee. After being on the job for more than a year, Longfellow maintains that having a job at Chick-fil-A is his pleasure, saying, “I want to work. I provide excellent customer service. A job gives me responsibility, and a chance to interact with customers.” His job duties include assisting guests and ensuring the dining area is neat and clean. Adam’s boss, Chick-fil-A Senior Director Brian Carroll, said, “Adam is ready to help; he listens well and is a joy to work with. Adam has a great sense of humor. He wants to and is ready to learn and can take correction when needed.”

Governor Scott continues to be a great advocate for people with disabilities supporting APD programs that assist people with finding and keeping jobs. The Governor has included two important proposals in his 2017-2018 Fighting for Florida’s Future budget to benefit people who are waiting for state-funded community services from APD.

Governor Scott is recommending $7.5 million to offer Medicaid waiver enrollment to more than 680 individuals with critical needs on the APD waiver waiting list. The agency is excited to provide these needed services to those who have serious needs.

Additionally, Governor Scott is proposing $3.3 million for employment programs for people on the waiting list. The money would pay for things like job coaches, uniforms, transportation, and on-the-job training to help individuals learn job skills and gain experience in the workforce. Having a job will help them be more independent and less reliant on others to meet their needs which is what all individuals want.

APD stakeholders are encouraging Legislators to support Governor Scott’s Fighting for Florida’s Future budget proposal with $1.3 billion allocated for APD to serve Floridians with developmental disabilities. Government investing in its most vulnerable citizens allows them to become more independent and taxpaying citizens. By making this investment in services, individuals are able to participate in their communities and reduce their dependence on state resources.

During this special month of March devoted to promoting the abilities of those APD serves, we ask for the public’s support. We know waiting list and employment funding will make a big difference in the lives of people with disabilities and their families. When we all work together, we can help make dreams come true for Floridians like Adam Longfellow.

Chick-fil-A employee Adam Longfellow speaks at the Exceptional Employer Awards.