Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities

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Registration for The 25th Anniversary Family Cafe is now open!

Now is the time to register to attend the largest statewide cross-disability event in the nation, The Annual Family Cafe website at familycafe.net.

This year’s event is scheduled for June 9-11, and will take place at the Hyatt Regency Orlando. There are informative Breakout Sessions, all kinds of Exhibit Hall vendors, a series of engaging Keynote speakers, and a variety of disability-friendly activities and demonstrations.

As always, there is no registration fee for individuals with disabilities and their families. If you’re a person with a disability or family member looking for information, resources, and a place to connect with people like you, The 25th Anniversary Family Cafe is the place to be! The first step in getting there is registering at familycafe.net.


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Florida Developmental Disabilities Council (FDDC) to Host Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day at the Florida Capitol

Governor DeSantis has declared March 14 as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day in Florida. Please join APD and the FDDC on March 14 at the Florida Capitol for this special day to advocate, empower, and celebrate individuals with developmental disabilities.

The event will host a virtual rally featuring speakers, advocates, and leaders from across the state. Exhibitor booths, including APD, can be found on the Second Floor Rotunda at the Florida Capitol. Come by and say hi!

National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month is observed throughout March to raise awareness about the inclusion of people with developmental disabilities.

For more information about Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day and to register for the event, please click here.

To read the Governor’s proclamation, please click here.

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Governor Ron DeSantis’ Framework for Freedom Budget Reaffirms Commitment to Protect the Health and Safety of Vulnerable Floridians

For Immediate Release:                        

February 1, 2023                                                    


TALLAHASSEE, Fla.— Today, Governor Ron DeSantis announced his Framework for Freedom budget recommendations showing his steadfast commitment to helping Floridians with developmental disabilities served by the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD). Last year, the Governor allocated unprecedented funding to APD’s budget which totaled more than $2 billion in strong investments in the Agency and Floridians served.

“Governor DeSantis continues to champion the health, safety, and well-being of Floridians with disabilities and their families,” said APD Director Taylor Hatch. “As the new Director, I look forward to serving and creating opportunities for vulnerable families through the funding dedicated to people with disabilities in the Framework for Freedom budget recommendations.”

Governor DeSantis continues to advocate for all Florida families with these key investments:

  • $79.6 million to enroll an estimated 1,200 individuals onto the Agency’s Home and Community Based Services Waiver.
  • $3.4 million to support individuals who are dually diagnosed as behaviorally unstable and at risk of homelessness.
  • $2.1 million to assist with completing Licensed Group Home Medication Reviews to ensure quality services are provided to the residents.
  • $5.8 million to plan for the construction of a 200-bed forensic facility on the Sunland Center campus in Jackson County.
  • $5.7 million for contracted services at agency facilities to ensure adequate staffing on a 24-hour basis.
  • More than $530,000 to implement seven new positions for monitoring and oversite of APD licensed providers.
  • $1.27 million of additional funding to continue the development of the Agency’s central client data system which includes electronic visit verification (EVV) for certain waiver services.

To learn more about the Governor’s Recommended Budget, visit FrameworkForFreedomBudget.com.

APD supports people with developmental disabilities to live, learn, and work in their communities. The agency annually serves more than 58,000 Floridians with severe forms of autism, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, intellectual disabilities, Down syndrome, Phelan-McDermid syndrome, and Prader-Willi syndrome. For more information about the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, visit APDcares.org or call toll-free 1-866-APD-CARES (1-866-273-2273).

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FCC Encourages Community Involvement

The Family Care Council (FCC) of Florida is encouraging you to get involved! The FCC is comprised of individuals with developmental disabilities, parents or guardians, and family members of people who qualify for services from the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD). Members strive to educate and empower families, meet with legislators, advocate for community and family needs, host educational forums, and much more.

If you or someone you know is interested in joining one of the 15 FCCs through the state, please visit Local Family Care Councils (fccflorida.org)

To hear FCC members share their stories, click here.

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APD Facilities Ready for the Holidays

The holiday season is here and the APD facilities are ready!

Tacachale Center, located in Gainesville, will kick off the season with their 38th annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on Dec. 7 at 6:30 p.m. The ceremony will include tree trimming, holiday songs, and a visit from Santa himself! This event is free and open to the public.

Sunland Center, located in Marianna, will round out the holiday festivities on their ranch, hosting Christmas City! Join Sunland on December 15 and 16 from 6 – 8 p.m. for an exciting and colorful evening. The event will include wagon rides through Christmas City, live entertainment, and food vendors. This event is open to the public and admission is only $5 per car.

In addition, Tacachale is seeking sponsors for its Christmas Home Adoption Program. Individuals or groups who would like to sponsor a home are asked to provide a gift for each person living there and to throw a small party with light refreshments. For more details, contact Erin Saunders at (352) 955-5528 or erin.saunders@apdcares.org.

In the spirit of the season, the generosity of the Gainesville community is sought to help fulfill the Holiday wish lists of Tacachale residents. Tax deductible donations can be made to Tacachale Christmas 2022 and mailed to:

Tacachale Volunteer Services

1621 NE Waldo Road

Gainesville, FL  32609

For more information about the Tacachale tree lighting ceremony activities, contact Heather Huzzen at (352) 955-5580 or heather.huzzen@apdcares.org. For details about donations, contact Volunteer Services Coordinator Paula Hawkins at (352) 955-5958 or paula.hawkins@apdcares.org

APD wishes you and yours a wonderful holiday season!

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12 Businesses Honored as Exceptional Employers

Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD), Blind Services, and Vocational Rehabilitation recognized 12 businesses with an Exceptional Employer Award for hiring people with disabilities. The 17th annual celebration was held at the Florida Capitol on October 24 as part of recognizing October as Disability Employment Awareness Month as declared by Governor Ron DeSantis’ proclamation.

The Exceptional Employer Awards are presented to companies that exhibit a strong commitment to employing and retaining people with unique abilities. Event sponsors were the Able Trust and RESPECT of Florida.

The 12 award-winning businesses are:

Beck Automotive Group of Palatka
City of Cape Coral
Clearwater Marine Aquarium
Hilton Garden Inn Fort Walton Beach
Kohl’s Tallahassee
Lighthouse Works, Inc. of Orlando
Pinecrest Bakery of Miami
Pitney Bowes, Inc. of Jacksonville
Rise & Nye’s of Sarasota
Stenner Pump Company of Jacksonville
Winslow LifeRaft Company of Lake Suzy
Xtreme Action Park of Ft. Lauderdale

APD Director Barbara Palmer said, “We are so very excited to honor these outstanding companies for their commitment to employing a diverse workforce. These businesses know that individuals with unique abilities are some of the most reliable employees within their organization. A good return on investment is what hiring a person with a disability is—it just makes good business sense.”

“Under Governor DeSantis’ decisive leadership, we will continue to promote an economic environment that strengthens Florida businesses and fuels job creation for all Floridians,” said Secretary Dane Eagle of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO). “DEO is proud to support all Floridians in finding meaningful employment through great programs like the Florida Unique Abilities Partner Program. We are pleased to recognize businesses in our state that demonstrate their support and commitment to the independence of Floridians with unique abilities.”

“For 17 years, the Exceptional Employer Awards have been highlighting businesses that embrace inclusivity in their hiring practices,” said Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Director Brent McNeal. “When people with disabilities participate in competitive, integrated employment we all win. Florida’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation has been connecting employers to qualified candidates of all abilities for over 90 years. We’re proud to participate in the awards ceremony again this year and are looking forward to celebrating these successful outcomes for our customers and Florida businesses.”

“We are pleased to celebrate the contributions of these exemplary employers,” said Division of Blind Services Director Robert Doyle. “They continually open the workforce door wider for those with blindness, visual impairments, and other disabilities and intentionally provide opportunities for persons with disabilities to excel.”

“The demand for skilled workers continues to grow in Florida, and we see even greater opportunities for employers to hire Floridians with disabilities, not just as a practical solution, but one that will strengthen Florida businesses,” said CareerSource Florida President and CEO Michelle Dennard. “CareerSource Florida commends businesses that recognize the value of disability workforce inclusion, as it is a brighter future for all when it includes employment for people with disabilities.”

strong>The Able Trust President and CEO Allison Chase said, “We at The Able Trust congratulate the 2022 Exceptional Employer Award recipients. These companies and individuals are leading the way in making Florida a more inclusive state for workers with disabilities.”

Speakers at the event included Piggly Wiggly of Quincy employee Brenton Pete, star graduate from Arc of the Bay Culinary Institute and Empowerment Café Chef Kate Stanford, and Live Better, Inc., President Patrick H. Martin who shared with the audience what having a job means to them.
Here is information on the 12 winning companies:Beck Automotive Group  
This auto dealership, located in Palatka, has a long history of hiring and supporting people with unique abilities. One employee with a disability recently retired after 40 years on the job. Another employee with unique abilities has been on the job more than 20 years. The car dealership is the host site for a Project Search class for adults with disabilities run by the Arc of Putnam County. Project Search is a nine-month training program to teach people with disabilities the skills needed to be successful in a work environment. Eight individuals with disabilities recently graduated from Project Search with three graduates being hired by Beck Automotive Group. Beck has agreed to be the host site for a second Project Search class. Beck prides itself on its welcoming culture and developing better leaders and managers. In addition to the Project Search participants, Beck has 10 more current employees with unique abilities.

City of Cape Coral
This city in Southwest Florida has been employing people with disabilities for 30 years. There are currently 48 people with unique abilities working for the City of Cape Coral in a variety of positions. One person works at Pops Café. About 40 individuals work in the recycling program and in the park maintenance program. For the recycling program, the workers travel around the city collecting the recycling from various buildings. The city wants its parks to be inviting to visitors, so these employees lay down mulch, ensure trails are clean and nice, and maintain all of the buildings. The city is also flexible in scheduling shifts to ensure its employees are able to access transportation services.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium
Many of us know about Winter the dolphin with a prosthetic tail that made the Clearwater Marine Aquarium home and was the subject of the popular movie featuring Harry Connick, Junior, called Dolphin Tale and has since passed away. Another dolphin named Hope, who was featured in Dolphin Tale 2, continues to bring thousands of people with disabilities to Clearwater to see and swim with her. The aquarium now has five dolphins with some type of disability. People with disabilities can identify with their struggles. The public can apply to interact with them as part of the aquarium’s CMA Inspires Program. The aquarium has four staff, two volunteers, and one intern with unique abilities. Over the past two years, more than 30 people with unique abilities have been a part of the aquarium’s staff.

Hilton Garden Inn Fort Walton Beach
This hotel has partnered with Vocational Rehabilitation since 2019 offering on-the-job training opportunities to young people. This employer hired five individuals when they completed the VR program, with two full-time employees continuing to be employed.
Additionally, they employ two more people with unique abilities. The hotel invites past VR participants back to work during the busy season since they already know the ropes. On August 11, the Hilton Garden Inn became the host site for Project Search in Okaloosa County with six students enrolled in the program. They are all having a blast learning about each other.

Kohl’s Tallahassee
This department store employs three people with unique abilities employed. One of them has worked at Kohl’s for more than two years. These employees are sales associates. They assist customers, fold merchandise, clean up dressing rooms, and return merchandise to the correct rack. Kohl’s truly values these individuals’ work ethic, dependability, and eagerness to learn. Their veteran employee even trains new hires with disabilities, giving her a sense of leadership.

Lighthouse Works, Inc. of Orlando
This organization, located in Orlando, has a long history of serving the blind and those with low vision. They operate several call centers where many of the employees are visually impaired.
180 of the 428 people employed by Lighthouse Works have some type of disability. This employer ensures all computers are accessible for someone with a visual disability. JAWS and ZoomText are installed on machines and additional software may be installed to access the necessary platforms or systems for the job. Their offices offer talking vending machines, high-contrast walls, and tactile maps. Individuals are regularly promoted from within, with 21 leaders within the organization having some type of disability.

Pinecrest Bakery of Miami
This Latin inspired delicious bakery has 20 locations in Dade and Monroe counties. There are eight individuals with unique abilities employed at the various bakery locations and headquarters.
These employees have a variety of jobs. Some make party trays, sandwiches, and cut Cuban bread for toast then butter it for customers. One worker is in the manufacturing department, one person cleans up, and another employee works in the bread department making bread. All of them are busy contributing to the success of the bakery. The company owner has embraced inclusion and ensured a cultural change from the top down.
Bakery employees have demonstrated and been exemplary natural supports for employees with unique abilities.

Pitney Bowes, Inc. of Jacksonville
This organization continues to step up its efforts to hire people with disabilities. Pitney Bowes has eight individuals working at its distribution and sorting center in Jacksonville, which is 10 percent of its workforce. This business has been focused on employing people with unique abilities since 2015. At one point 25 percent of its workforce were individuals with disabilities. This business is opening a facility in Orlando and plans to continue hiring applicants with disabilities as an integral part of the workforce. Pitney Bowes employees without disabilities say they are inspired and motivated by those with disabilities.

Rise & Nye’s of Sarasota
This coffee shop, bakery, and ice cream parlor is located in Sarasota and is committed to hiring lots of people with unique abilities. Rise and Nye’s has 40 employees, with 35 having significant disabilities. This business was opened in 2020 by longtime advocate Beaver Shriver, who is related by marriage to the founder of Special Olympics, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and his business partner. Rise and Nye’s employees with unique abilities make coffee and baked goods, run the cash register, serve ice cream, clean up, train new employees, and whatever else is needed. There are plans to start a food truck, allowing more people with disabilities to have a job and earn a paycheck.

Stenner Pump Company
This Jacksonville business has a long-standing relationship with Pine Castle which provides services to people with disabilities. This company has been employing individuals with unique abilities for more than 22 years and has strengthened that focus over the past seven years. Through an arrangement with Pine Castle, Stenner Pump Company currently employs 10 people to assemble parts. The company also has one fulltime employee with disabilities onsite. Stenner Pump Company president says we gain more than we give when we hire individuals with disabilities.

Winslow LifeRaft Company of Lake Suzy
This business, located in Southwest Florida, has a strong partnership with Vocational Rehabilitation (VR). Winslow LifeRaft Company has four people with disabilities currently in their workforce. Over the past four years, more than 17 individuals have worked at the factory. Three VR customers are participating in their on-the-job training program. Winslow LifeRaft employees help these trainees learn the soft skills needed in the working world. They provide coaching to the individuals to help them be successful in the workplace. After completing the training program, these trainees are able to secure permanent positions.
This company has duplicated the on-the-job training program at another factory in Indiana and is piloting the program at its Colorado Springs facility. Company leadership is very supportive of hiring individuals with unique abilities because they have proven to be responsible, reliable, and hard-working employees.

Xtreme Action Park of Ft. Lauderdale
Located in Fort Lauderdale, Xtreme Action Park is the largest indoor entertainment venue in Florida with go kart racing, bowling, a ropes course, a trampoline park, roller skating, laser tag, escape rooms, and more. Xtreme Action Park currently employs nine individuals with unique abilities. Over the years, they have partnered with Vocational Rehabilitation to hire many qualified applicants. These employees are doing a variety of tasks. The company tries to match an individual’s strengths with the task and put them in the best position to succeed. Xtreme Action Park allows employees extra time to complete tasks and a flexible work schedule due to transportation issues. They also provide a specific parking area for these employees to use. This business has shown patience, support, understanding, flexibility, and friendship to all of its employees.

You may watch the entire ceremony here.

Click Here to view the photo gallery from the event.

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Post-Hurricane Recovery and Assistance

In June, we shared with you tips and tools to prepare for Florida Hurricane Season. But what do you do after the hurricane has passed? Below you will find resources to help you and your family in recovery efforts.

Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) – APD has a Recovery Toolkit available on their website that includes resource links across the state, press releases, and more. The toolkit can be found at https://apd.myflorida.com/news/toolkit.htm

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) – FEMA will set up temporary Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs) after a disaster to provide support to impacted areas and communities. These offices may assist with the application process, answer questions about your application, and help you submit information to FEMA. You can also review their Frequently Asked Questions About Disasters page for more details about assistance, to locate a recovery center, and more at https://www.fema.gov/disaster/recover/faq or text DRC and a ZIP Code to 4FEMA (43362). You can also call the FEMA helpline at 1-800-621-3362.

Division of Emergency Management (DEM) – Through the State Emergency Response Team (SERT), DEM maintains emergency information for disasters. It includes statewide information such as open shelters (including special needs shelters), evacuation orders, school closures, and much more. Information can be found at https://www.floridadisaster.org/info/

Emergency Management Websites by County – To find your local emergency management website, please visit https://feaweb.org/member-center/hurricane-resources/#emergmgmtbycounty

American Red Cross – The American Red Cross offers many forms of assistance and relief after a disaster. They hand out food and water, provide emergency shelters, assist with medical care, and much more. For information and to find your local Red Cross, please visit https://www.redcross.org/get-help.html

Florida 511 – This can be used to get real-time traffic information. You can download the app or visit https://fl511.com/

7-Dippity – This organization provides a free download of After The Storm: A Guide to Help Children Cope with the Psychological Effects of a Hurricane. This is available in both English and Spanish. https://7-dippity.com/after-the-storm/

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Direct Support Professional Recognition Week

This year Direct Support Professional Recognition Week will be celebrated September 11-17. Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) provide direct care to some of our most vulnerable citizens, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

DSPs work specifically with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). A DSP is someone who not only helps the individual perform tasks, but teaches them to perform it on their own. The DSPs assist the client with a variety of tasks, such as cooking and cleaning, keeping a safe living space, medication administration, and much more. Daily responsibilities for DSPs vary depending on the needs of the client, so it is important that a DSP be flexible and well rounded.

DSPs provide a vital service to some of Florida’s most vulnerable. In June 2022, Florida Governor DeSantis signed the Freedom First budget for Fiscal Year 2022-2023. With the support of Governor DeSantis and the Florida Legislature, DSPs received a pay increase to $15 per hour to be effective no later than October 1.

APD Director Barbara Palmer said, “APD is excited to announce these record high rates for our vital service providers. We appreciate Governor DeSantis’ commitment in supporting people with disabilities and their service providers. These rate increases for our valued Direct Support Professionals will help them with the recent increases in the cost of living and reward them for their excellent care to Floridians with disabilities.”

We hope you join us in celebrating DSPs this September, but we also want to encourage you to celebrate them each and every day. Reach out to a DSP in your life and tell them you support them, let them know they are valued, and let them know their work matters to so many.

To watch a video message from APD Director Palmer to our DSPs, follow this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YeRML5rPwiY

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Tacachale – Celebrating 100 Years of Serving Florida’s Most Vulnerable

On November 1, 1921, Florida opened the doors to its first community facility for Floridians with developmental disabilities in Gainesville. Originally called The Florida Farm Colony, the facility boasted three buildings on a 4,000-acre campus, 3,000 of which were donated by the citizens of Alachua County.

The Florida Farm Colony had 240 residents by the end of 1921, with most being children. The farm had originally hoped to be self-sustaining, with residents working in capacities such sewing, agricultural work, serving food, and other tasks. Because many of the residents were unable to work, the focus of the farm changed. In 1957, The Florida Farm Colony’s name was changed to Sunland Training Center of Gainesville, reflecting the desire to provide more educational opportunities for its residents.

Between 1947 and 1961 the farm expanded their facilities, with the number of residents reaching more than 2,000 individuals, including many children. The needs, interests, and activities of the residents of Sunland changed. The facility’s focus was on providing meaningful life experiences, such as therapy, recreational activities, and paying jobs. Residents enjoyed activities such as picnics, swimming, field trips, and arts and crafts. There were also well-established Cub Scout, Boy Scout, and Explorer programs.

Five additional Sunland Centers opened throughout the state between 1960 and 1967. However, as community care centers became more common and available to those in need, four of the five additional centers closed throughout the 1980s. In 1990, the Gainesville center was renamed to Tacachale, a Timucuan word meaning lighting a new fire in times of transition. The facility added individualized supports for residents, such as person-centered planning, to help each resident achieve their goals and dreams. Person-centered planning focused on the gifts, talents, and skills of each resident.

Between 1989 and 2022, residents received dental care through a partnership with the University of Florida. Services were provided by Dr. Timothy Garvey at Tacachale’s on-site dental clinic. Over the course of his career, Dr. Garvey received the Dr. E.A. Cosby Community Service Award (2010), the Humanitarian Award – Florida Dental Health Foundation (2010), DentaQuest’s Health Equity Hero Award (2020), and many others for his work with individuals with disabilities. While at Tacachale, Dr. Garvey also provided services to individuals with developmental disabilities in the community. In honor of Dr. Garvey, the Tacachale clinic will be renamed The Dr. Timothy Garvey Dental Clinic.

Today, residents of Tacachale are provided with a variety of opportunities for community engagement and leisure activities, including Special Olympics, cultural events, crafts, and other activities. Those interested in earning a paycheck have many opportunities to do so, both on and off campus. Tacachale began partnering with ClosetMaid in the 1990s, providing work for residents to assemble brackets for storage systems. Residents currently assemble over 5 million brackets a year. Another vocational opportunity for residents is to work with Tacachale Recycling, where approximately 7,000 pounds of paper and cardboard are processed each week.

As of December 1, 2021, Tacachale had 268 residents in their care. Residents are cared for by a medical team consisting of physicians, advanced practice providers, and nurses, as well as long-term support staff who provide one on one services when needed.

Tacachale’s vision is to be a national leader in services to persons with intellectual disabilities and an excellent place to live and work is clear to anyone that enters the facility. Tachachale’s mission and vision to enhance the quality of life for its residents will continue being the fire that lights their way through the twists and turns of the future.

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Read Different: The Florida Braille and Talking Book Library Services

The Florida Division of Blind Services (DBS) helps blind and visually impaired individuals achieve their goals and live their lives with as much independence and self-direction as possible. The Bureau of Braille and Talking Books Library Services is one of many programs offered through DBS. The Library was established in 1950 and provides reading materials to Floridians who are unable to read standard print due to visual, physical, or reading disabilities. It is the largest of its kind in the U.S. and serves more than 31,647 Floridians, with annual loans of over 1.99 million items.

The Braille and Talking Books Library offers books and magazines in both Braille and recorded formats for individuals of all ages. It also provides access to NFB-NEWSLINE, a free audio news service offering access to more than 500 publications. Equipment needed for the services, such as digital players and accessories, is loaned to the customer by the Library. Materials and equipment are sent to the customer via postage-free mail. All Library services are provided at no cost to the customer. Books are also available for download through the Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) website using personal devices.

Read Different is a presentation from the Florida Division of Blind Services’ See Different Team. The presentation provides information on the benefits of joining the Florida Braille and Talking Book Library, a demonstration of available Library equipment, clarification on who qualifies, and much more. Click here to watch the presentation.

For more information about The Florida Braille and Talking Book Library, please visit their website at Braille and Talking Book Library – Blind Services (fldoe.org) or call  1-800-226-6075. To apply for Library services, click here.