Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities

Connecting you to the community.

Leave a comment

Creating Inclusion Through Acceptance

We celebrate World and National Autism Awareness Month every April. World Autism Awareness Day is recognized on April 2. Started by the Autism Society in 1970, Autism Awareness Month aims to bring about understanding, inclusion, and empowerment of people on the autism spectrum. Autism acceptance encourages a world where every individual in the autism community has access to the support and resources needed when they need them.

“Autism Awareness Month is all about creating awareness, acceptance, and inclusion of individuals with this diagnosis. Autistic cases in the U.S. rose from 1 in 125 children in 2010 to 1 in 59 children in 2020,” said Agency for Persons with Disabilities Director Barbara Palmer. “Great strides have been made over the years to include individuals with autism in all walks of life.”

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disability that can cause challenges with social, communication, and behavioral skills. In most cases, there are no physical traits related to a person with ASD, but the way a person with ASD communicates, interacts, behaves, and learns may vary compared to most others. The cognitive abilities of a person with ASD can range from gifted to severely intellectually disabled. While some individuals with ASD require a large amount of assistance, others can and do live a relatively normal life.

Individuals with ASD are often born with the disorder. Signs of ASD begin before 3 years of age and usually last throughout their life. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms of ASD can show as early as the first 12 months of life and sometimes as late as 24 months or more. Some children with ASD may develop new skills early but stop gaining new skills or lose already learned skills around 18 to 24 months of age. ASD is classified as one umbrella term with three different stages: autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder, and Asperger syndrome.

According to Autism Speaks, the following signs could be an indicator that your child may be at risk for ASD.

By 6 months

  • Few or no big smiles or other warm, joyful, and engaging expressions
  • Limited or no eye contact

By 9 months

  • Little or no back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles, or other facial expressions

By 12 months

  • Little or no babbling
  • Little or no back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching, or waving
  • Little or no response to name

By 16 months

  • Very few or no words

By 24 months

  • Very few or no meaningful, two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating)

At any age

  • Loss of previously acquired speech, babbling, or social skills
  • Avoidance of eye contact
  • Persistent preference for solitude
  • Difficulty understanding other people’s feelings
  • Delayed language development
  • Persistent repetition of words or phrases (echolalia)
  • Resistance to minor changes in routine or surroundings
  • Restricted interests
  • Repetitive behaviors (flapping, rocking, spinning, etc.)
  • Unusual and intense reactions to sounds, smells, tastes, textures, lights, and/or colors

The causes of ASD are still unknown; however, researchers have learned there is likely a combination of genetic and nongenetic, or environmental, influences that play a factor. According to the CDC, ASD occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. Factors like family income, lifestyle, or educational level do not affect a child’s risk of autism. ASD is found to be four times more common among boys than girls.

There is no cure for ASD, but research shows child development can improve using early intervention treatment services. These services can help with a child’s ability to learn crucial skills from birth to 3 years of age. Similar symptoms that appear in children on the spectrum may also exist in adults. Although treatment is usually recommended for children, adults with ASD may also find specific types of treatments and services to be helpful. It is important to recognize that treatment does not aim to cure ASD, instead, it helps individuals address and manage issues such as anxiety, depression, or rigid thinking. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms related to ASD, consult a doctor or mental health professional for a formal autism evaluation. To learn more about National Autism Awareness Month and treatment options for autism symptoms in children and adults, visit the Autism Society’s Acceptance Page

Leave a comment


Governor Ron DeSantis has issued a proclamation recognizing March 30, 2021 as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day in Florida. Thank you, Governor DeSantis, for supporting Floridians with developmental disabilities.  

WHEREAS, Florida is committed to empowering its residents to reach their full potential and lead healthy
lives; and

WHEREAS, more than 40 million Americans have developmental disabilities, and face unique challenges in
being able to live independently and work in our communities; and

WHEREAS, people born with developmental disabilities are represented in all communities across our
state; and

WHEREAS, the state of Florida supports more than 100,000 residents with developmental disabilities
through services provided by state programs including the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD),
Agency for Health Care Administration, Department of Health, and Department of Education’s Divisions of
Exceptional Student Education, Blind Services, and Vocational Rehabilitation, and by partner organizations
and thousands of private-sector and community providers; and

WHEREAS, Florida has made record investments to serve Floridians with unique abilities so they may
continue to live more independently and find great jobs; and

WHEREAS, the proposed 2021~22 Florida Leads Budget recommends continuing this investment to help
more Floridians with disabilities receive services and assistance; and

WHEREAS, the State of Florida works with dozens of partner organizations and thousands of private~sector
community providers to support those with developmental disabilities; and

WHEREAS, Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day is an opportunity to raise public awareness and
enhance the understanding of the issues affecting people with developmental disabilities.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Ron DeSantis, Governor of the State of Florida, do hereby extend my support to all
observing March 30, 2021, as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day in Florida.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my
hand and caused the Great Seal of the State of
Florida to be affixed at Tallahassee, the Capital,
this 30th day of March, in the year two thousand

Leave a comment

Six Exceptional Employers Honored

Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD), Blind Services, and Vocational Rehabilitation recognized six businesses today with an Exceptional Employer Award. These companies from across the state were recognized for hiring people with disabilities with plaques made by people with disabilities. The 15th annual celebration was held virtually as part of recognizing October as Disability Employment Awareness Month.
The Exceptional Employer Awards are presented to companies that have a strong commitment to employing and retaining people with unique abilities. Event sponsors were The Able Trust and RESPECT of Florida.
The six award-winning businesses are:

  • Blaze Pizza Store 1064 of Tallahassee
  • Lee County Library System
  • Rita’s Italian Ice & Frozen Custard of Lake Buena Vista
  • The Florida Bar
  • Whataburger #55 of Ft. Walton Beach
  • Youth Co-Op, Inc. of Miami

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said, “I congratulate all the Exceptional Employer Award winners being honored today and thank you for leading the way on this important initiative. I look forward to seeing how these businesses and individuals continue to accomplish their goals while helping make our state an even better place to live, learn and work for people with unique abilities and all Floridians.”

APD Director Barbara Palmer said, “We are thrilled to honor these very deserving companies from around the state for their commitment to employing a diverse workforce. These companies know that individuals with special abilities are some of the most reliable employees within their organization. We want employers to know that hiring a person with a disability is good business.”

Dane Eagle, Executive Director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, said, “Jobs are important to all Floridians. We are therefore pleased to recognize businesses in our state that demonstrate their support and commitment to the independence of Floridians with unique abilities. Businesses in the Unique Abilities Partner Program see the importance of employing all Floridians so they can continue to strengthen their workforce, communities, and Florida’s economy.”

Director of the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Allison Flanagan said, “I am proud to honor the employers who are diversifying their workforce and looking beyond the disability. Individuals with disabilities are an integral part of an inclusive workforce while enhancing their local community.”

“For those of us at the Florida Division of Blind Services (DBS), National Disability Employment Awareness Month serves as a great opportunity to spotlight wonderful employers who recognize the many benefits of hiring disabled workers and the great work done by those who are blind or visually impaired. While we recognize the challenges faced by persons with disabilities, we strive daily to ensure our clients have the needed access and opportunities to thrive in the workforce,” said Division of Blind Services Director Robert Doyle.

“Employment of people with disabilities is an economic imperative for our state. It is estimated that 31% of Floridians with disabilities who could and want to be employed are not.  Businesses who recognize the value of disability workforce inclusion realize significant gains in their bottom line, but more importantly in the loyalty of their workforce and customers,” said The Able Trust CEO and President Tony Carvajal.

“The Florida Association of Rehabilitation Facilities (FARF) and RESPECT of Florida are pleased to celebrate the efforts of so many businesses who are empowering Floridians with disabilities through creation of employment opportunities. We join other stakeholders in recognizing their successes and say, ‘thank you’ to these employers for making a meaningful difference in the lives of so many individuals,” said FARF Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Sewell.

Agency for Health Care Administration Bureau Chief for Medicaid Policy Erica Floyd Thomas spoke about the Working People with Disabilities program. Other guest speakers at the event included Florida Linen Services of Jensen Beach employee Rebecca Potvin, Florida Bar Employee Mingdee Hou, and Radiology Associates of Tallahassee employee Reagan Brown, who shared what having a job means to them.

Here is information on the six winning companies:
Blaze Pizza Store 1064
This new business located in Tallahassee has immediately made an effort to be inclusive, hiring two individuals with developmental disabilities to work in the restaurant as part of the entire 41-member workforce. These two employees serve as greeters welcoming patrons when they enter the restaurant. They also assist with sanitizing doors and tables to prevent the spread of COVID-19. These employees are described as pleasant, bubbly, and happy. Their teammates help them by providing natural supports at work.

Lee County Library System
This municipal employer has several library branches in the Ft. Myers area. The library employs 11 individuals with unique abilities and Lee County government employs 41 people. The library system has an outstanding talking library loan program for customers with all types of disabilities. One of the library’s most recent hires is a person with a visual disability who is served by the Division of Blind Services. DBS was able to provide special glasses and a magnifier to assist the person with being able to read the book titles to ensure the books were properly organized when being re-shelved after being returned to the library. This person has been on the job for 18 months and is doing great work.

Rita’s Italian Ice and Frozen Custard of Lake Buena Vista
This sweet shop opened in 2019, and always been inclusive of people with unique abilities, especially those with autism. One of the owners is on the autism spectrum. Since opening, Rita’s has employed 11 people with disabilities. Today, they employ seven people with special abilities out of the 11-member workforce. They go above and beyond for the autistic community. This business hires people that some would consider unemployable and trains them thoroughly, so they excel at their jobs. One individual spent five months in training, but the company did not give up on the person, and now that person is a successful employee.

The Florida Bar
The Florida Bar, the state’s guardian for the integrity of the legal profession, was founded in 1949, and has more than 300 employees in Tallahassee, Orlando, Tampa, Miami, and Ft. Lauderdale. As an official arm of the Florida Supreme Court, The Florida Bar protects the public and fosters a high standard of integrity and competence for Florida’s lawyers. This organization has also fostered an environment of inclusion with its staff with more than six individuals with disabilities employed. The Bar retrofitted its office to make available special emergency evacuation chairs for employees with physical disabilities. They provide extra time to an employee with a cognitive disability and always welcome his job coach. This organization is committed to treating everyone with respect.

Whataburger, Store Number 55, of Ft. Walton Beach
This restaurant has five individuals with unique abilities on the payroll. These individuals hold a wide variety of jobs, including grill cook, fry station cook, a prep attendant, and two employees that serve as porters. Each of these employees fills a critical role in the success of the restaurant. The environment is supportive and accommodating to employees with disabilities allowing extra time for training and adjusting schedules and tasks to meet the needs of the individuals and the restaurant.

Youth Co-Op, Incorporated, of Miami

This company partners with CareerSource in Miami to provide training to individuals looking for work in addition to many other community programs. They currently employ 10 people with disabilities and over the years have hired more than 60 individuals with disabilities. This employer has worked with the Division of Blind Services to provide accommodations such as larger computer monitors. Other accommodations provided include height-adjustable chairs. Sharon Jadoo with the Division of Blind Services wrote Youth Co-Op goes the extra mile to make every employee feel valued and allows them to reach their highest potential with excellent opportunities to grow in their careers. 

APD supports people with developmental disabilities to live, learn, and work in their communities. The agency annually serves more than 55,000 Floridians with autism, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, intellectual disabilities, Down syndrome, Phalen-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).

   A video of the ceremony is available here

Leave a comment

ADA Anniversary Celebration Receives High Praise from Floridians

Self-advocate and Ms. Wheelchair Florida 2018 Shevie Barnes wants you to close your eyes and imagine yourself in a mall with a group of your closest friends. “This mall,” she explains, “happens to be two stories, and the food court is upstairs. Well, with the ADA in effect there’s definitely an elevator. But as you race toward the elevator to beat everybody upstairs, you see the thing that most of us hate seeing, and that would be the out of order sign.” For most people, this is an inconvenience, requiring them to find the nearest stairs or escalator. However, Barnes wants us to imagine ourselves, instead, in a wheelchair. “Your only way upstairs is gone. What do you do?”

Shevie Barnes presented this scenario as part of her speech during the 30th anniversary celebration of the ADA on July 24. Her speech asked the 400 attendees of this virtual event to examine the daily challenges of living with a disability, to consider how far we’ve come in the 30 years since the ADA made things like elevators a requirement, and how far we still have to go to make a truly accessible world.

For many who attended this event, Barnes’s speech was thought-provoking. In responses to a post-event survey, attendees described Barnes’s speech as “inspirational,” praising her passion and willingness to share her experience. As one respondent explained, “I had just never thought of how someone in a wheelchair would get to a second floor of a mall without an elevator.”

Barnes was one of three keynote speakers who left an impression on attendees. The event also included speeches by Comptroller for the Florida Alliance for Assistive Services and Technology Whitney Harris and Executive Director of the Center for Independent Living of South Florida Peter O’Connell. Like Barnes, Harris and O’Connell shared their personal experiences with the ADA and how it helped them achieve their goals. These speeches were a highlight for most of the attendees, as an overwhelming majority of survey respondents explained that this was their favorite part of the event.

Other highlights included speeches by local and state leaders, self-advocate Kazana McKenzie’s moving performance of the national anthem, and a slide show featuring images of people around the state showing their support of the ADA by wearing their commemorative shirts in their homes and communities. To ensure the ADA Celebration met the public’s expectations, APD did an online survey immediately following the event and received very positive results. More than 90% of survey respondents rated the event as either good or excellent. In the words of one respondent, “Great job not letting the pandemic stop the show!”

Attendees praised the flexibility and dedication of the event organizers. As one respondent said, “It was amazing that the event went forward in the face of formidable challenges for everyone in these troubled times.” Another added, “Thank you for celebrating this live!!! Awesome to be a part of the community and the ADA impact!”

When asked about how this event benefited them and their understanding of the ADA, 61% of respondents said that they left feeling encouraged about the future and 60% felt proud to have been a part of a celebration.

This good feeling was supported by Governor Ron DeSantis, who gave an uplifting message at the beginning of the event. The participation of Governor DeSantis, along with other leaders, prompted 50% of respondents to note that hearing from local leaders was a major benefit of attending.

Although this virtual event was much different than the in-person one originally planned more than seven months ago, APD and our partners are grateful to receive such a swell of positive feedback.

These are challenging times, but it is a testament to advancements in technology that self-advocates, families, providers, and leaders from all over the state were able to come together in celebration of everything that the ADA has helped individuals achieve.

Click here to enjoy the ADA 30th anniversary celebration recorded on Friday, July 24, 2020.


Leave a comment

APD Celebrates the 30th Anniversary of the ADA

Governor Ron DeSantis issued a proclamation declaring July 24th “Americans with Disabilities Act Awareness Day” to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the federal bill in July.

The ADA was signed into law 30 years ago and has made a tremendous impact on the lives of individuals with disabilities. The ADA is an important civil rights act designed to ensure that people with disabilities enjoy the same freedoms as everyone else. President George H. W. Bush signed the ADA into law on July 26, 1990. Since then, the ADA has had a tremendous impact on American life and culture.

To commemorate Americans with Disabilities Act Awareness Day, a virtual statewide celebration was held with self-advocates, state and community leaders, and disability organizations. Florida’s celebration of the ADA was hosted by APD, RESPECT of Florida, ABLE United, Able Trust, Florida Association of Centers for Independent Living, Ability 1st, Blind Services, Vocational Rehabilitation, Florida Association of Rehabilitation Facilities, and many other stakeholders. The celebration included a welcome message from Governor DeSantis, which may be viewed here.

Governor Ron DeSantis said, “The ADA has removed barriers to allow individuals with disabilities the chance to achieve their goals. Florida is happy to be an accommodating state. Florida’s constitution, the ADA, and the laws of our state affirm equality and inclusion for people with unique abilities.”

Kazana McKenzie, a self-advocate with Pyramid Studios, opened the event by singing the National Anthem. Local and state leaders addressed the virtual gathering. The speakers included Governor DeSantis, Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried, State Representative Loranne Ausley, Secretary of State Laurel Lee, Tallahassee Mayor Pro-Tem Dianne Williams-Cox, Leon Commission Chairman Bryan Desloge, EEOC Representative Elaine McArthur, and ABLE United Executive Director John Finch.

The three keynote speakers shared how the ADA has helped them achieve their goals. They were:

  • Whitney Harris, Comptroller for the Florida Alliance for Assistive Services and Technology (FAAST)
  • Shevie Barnes, Self-advocate and Ms. Wheelchair Florida 2018
  • Peter O’Connell, Executive Director of the Center for Independent Living of South Florida

Agency for Persons with Disabilities Director Barbara Palmer said, “America is a better place because of the ADA. This landmark legislation was critical to allow people to be a part of their communities. The ADA provides vital access to buildings, jobs, education, and the entire community for individuals with special abilities.”

“Thirty years ago, the Americans With Disabilities Act was signed into law, and since then we’ve made continued progress in opportunity, accessibility, and equity for people with disabilities,” said Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried. “As we recognize the achievements of Floridians with disabilities, may we strengthen our commitment to the inclusion and support of those with diverse abilities in our workplaces and communities.”

State Representative Loranne Ausley said, “I am honored to be a part of this celebration marking 30 years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which marked a life-changing shift in accessibility for millions of Americans with disabilities and forced a shift in attitude for Americans without disabilities.”

“The Americans with Disabilities Act is commemorating 30 years of progress in access and inclusion,” said Florida Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee.  “The Florida Department of State is doing its part to ensure that persons with disabilities know their voting options, have equal access to voting, and have confidence that their vote is safe and secure.”

“The ADA has done so much for us as a disability community. It has given us access to things that we would not have without it. But we have so much further yet to go,” said Comptroller for the Florida Alliance for Assistive Services and Technology (FAAST) Whitney Harris.

“The City of Tallahassee is proud to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” City of Tallahassee Mayor Pro Tem Dianne Williams-Cox said. “By breaking down barriers to employment and beyond, this landmark civil rights legislation enables our society to benefit from the skills and talents of individuals with disabilities.”

“Over the past 30 years, the Americans with Disabilities Act has supported the rights of so many individuals to live, learn, and earn to their fullest potential,” said Leon County Commission Chairman Bryan Desloge. “While our work must continue, Leon County remains committed to ensuring individuals with disabilities have better access to local government programs and services and better opportunities for full and equal participation in civic and community life.”

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Miami District Acting Director Bradley Anderson said, “The EEOC Miami District recognizes and celebrates the many positive changes brought about by 30 years of the ADA.  We will continue to use our resources to advise employers and employees on their respective ADA obligations and rights, and, where necessary, to take steps to enforce the statute. We are proud to play a crucial part in helping to achieve the ADA’s goal of eliminating workplace discrimination against qualified people with disabilities—people who contribute greatly to their workplaces and our country.”

“The passage of the ADA also sparked conversations about the need to provide those with disabilities the opportunity to save,” said John Finch, Director of ABLE United, Florida’s disability savings program. “Now thousands of Floridians are saving for their futures without jeopardizing eligibility for current or future benefits.”

Join us in celebrating this historic anniversary by enjoying a recording of the full event here.

Leave a comment

World Down Syndrome Day 2020: The Road to Independence

In 1868, a majestic mansion called Normansfield on Kings Road in Hampton Wick, United Kingdom opened its doors to 19 children with disabilities. In the nineteenth century, it wasn’t unusual for wealthy families to pay to place such children in facilities and to leave them there for life. However, this facility was unusual, in that it required these families to agree to have their child privately educated, and this sprawling mansion was held to the highest standards of comfort and hygiene.

Soon after opening, it was expanded to include schoolrooms and a farm with stables and a garden. Residents were taught how to ride horses, clean stables, and grow fruits and vegetables. They learned crafts like weaving and how to make puppets, which they then used to perform puppet plays. This commitment to educating and nurturing the creativity of these children was revolutionary, as most doctors of the time believed that the people who lived in these facilities were unable to learn anything.

The founder, however, was determined to prove that this was not the case. Above all, he was committed to ensuring that individuals with mental and developmental disabilities were given every opportunity to lead a quality life.


The story of Normansfield begins 22 years before it opened. In 1846, John Langdon Down had a life-changing experience while walking with his family through the fields around Devon in the UK. A sudden rainstorm forced the family to run in search of shelter, and they ended up at a nearby farm. Here, they were served tea by a girl with distinct facial features, who seemed unhappy and did not speak the entire time. This encounter affected Langdon Down, and, as he later wrote, he remained haunted by this girl and one question: “Could nothing for her be done?”

This question stuck with him for years afterward as he explains, “the remembrance of that hapless girl presented itself to me and I longed to do something for her kind.” This experience inspired John Langdon Down to study medicine. He was an excellent student and could have had an excellent academic career or a thriving private practice in London. However, he chose, instead, to dedicate his life to researching and describing various developmental disabilities and to improving the living conditions for those with these disabilities.

He began his medical career at a facility called Earlswood, where he worked as the Chief Physician. Here, he not only worked to improve the living conditions of Earlswood’s residents, but he was also a dedicated researcher. He became the first person to identify a specific group of patients with flat, broad faces, upward slanting eyes, and a fissured tongue — features that they shared with the young woman who continued to inspire Langdon Down. His research also generated the largest collection of clinical photography from the Victorian era, providing a visual record for a condition whose cause would not be discovered for nearly 100 years.

Even after leaving Earlswood, John Langdon Down maintained this commitment to understanding various conditions that would come to be known as developmental disabilities and to improving the quality of life for these individuals. This dedication ultimately led him to open a facility of his own. And armed with years of research and the vision of one girl who had forever changed his life, he founded Normansfield.


In 1961, a letter written by a prestigious group of genetic experts was published in the Lancet, one of the world’s oldest and best-known medical journals. This letter called for a renaming of the condition whose features were first described by John Langdon Down nearly 100 years earlier, but whose cause had only recently been discovered. This letter came two years after researchers had discovered that this condition was caused by the duplication of chromosome 21. This letter was signed by numerous experts on genetic conditions – and by one Norman Langdon Down.

Norman Langdon Down was the grandson of John Langdon Down. However, when Norman Langdon Down signed this letter, he likely had another John Langdon Down in mind as well — his cousin, who was born with the very condition that their grandfather had dedicated his life to understanding. Norman had been approached by one of the other signatories on the letter, who had requested Norman’s permission to lend his family’s name to this condition. His signature indicated his consent, and in 1965 the World Health Organization declared that this condition would henceforth be officially known as Down syndrome.


Since 2012, the UN has officially recognized March 21 as World Down Syndrome Day. This awareness day commemorates individuals with Down syndrome, but it’s also a perfect time to reflect on the progress that we’ve made in understanding Down syndrome and improving the conditions of individuals with it.

And it is in this spirit that we remember John Langdon Down, who was one of the earliest champions of independence for individuals with disabilities, including the condition to which he would ultimately lend his name. John Langdon Down was one of the first to demonstrate the learning capacity of individuals with developmental disabilities and to use this as an argument for their independence.

And this year’s theme, “We Decide,” builds on the work of John Langdon Down and countless others. This theme advocates for the decision-making rights of people with Down syndrome, arguing that “all people with Down syndrome should have full participation in decision making about matters relating to, or affecting, their lives.” This year’s theme encourages all of us to follow the example of advocates like Langdon Down and to not only celebrate trailblazers like John and Norman Langdon Down, but also to celebrate the many individuals with Down syndrome and continue supporting their independence.

For more information about Down syndrome, check out this blog post. You can also join us in celebrating this year’s theme by reading up on the decision-making rights of individuals with developmental disabilities here.

You can find more information about John Langdon Down and his contributions here and here.

Leave a comment

Wear Green for Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month

It’s March, which means many of us are pulling out our green clothes in anticipation of St. Patrick’s Day on March 17. There’s also another reason to wear green this month – National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month. Green is the official color of cerebral palsy (CP) awareness, and it represents the hope for advancements in treatment and acceptance.

Wearing green is a great way to show your support for CP. You can also learn more about cerebral palsy. Here are some quick facts about cerebral palsy to get you started.

What is Cerebral Palsy?

The CDC defines cerebral palsy as a group of disorders that affect the part of the brain that controls muscle movement. Most individuals with cerebral palsy are born with it or develop it during or soon after birth. CP that occurs before or during birth is known as congenital CP, and this accounts for 85-95% of individuals with cerebral palsy. Rarely, CP can result from brain damage that occurs more than 28 days after birth. This is known as acquired CP, and it is usually associated with head injuries or infections, such as meningitis.

Early signs of CP include lack of muscle coordination, stiff or tight muscles and exaggerated reflexes, dragging one foot or leg while walking, a crouched or “scissored” gait, and muscle tone that is either too tight or too loose. These signs generally appear before a child turns three.

Because cerebral palsy refers to a range of disorders, effects and severity vary from person to person. For example, although some individuals with CP have trouble walking, the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network (ADDM) found that over half of children with CP (58.2%) could walk independently.

Cerebral palsy does not affect life expectancy. It also does not affect intelligence. Children with CP often have average to above average intelligence and attend the same schools as their peers.

How Common is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is the most common motor disability in childhood. The ADDM estimates that 1 in 323 children has cerebral palsy.

What Co-Occurring Conditions are Common?

Children with cerebral palsy have an increased risk of co-occurring conditions, including other developmental disabilities or neurological conditions. One study of individuals with CP in metropolitan Atlanta found that roughly 60% of eight-year-old children with CP had another developmental disability.

Intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are the most common co-occurring developmental disabilities. The ADDM reports that 40% of children with CP had an intellectual disability, and 6.9% had ASD.

Children with CP are also at a higher risk of developing other conditions, the most common of which is epilepsy. Roughly 40% of children with CP had co-occurring epilepsy. About 25% of the children in these studies had both epilepsy and an intellectual disability.

What are the Different Types of Cerebral Palsy?

The CDC identifies four main types of cerebral palsy: spastic, dyskinetic, ataxic, and mixed cerebral palsy.

Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common type, affecting an estimated 77.4% of people with CP. Individuals with spastic CP have increased muscle tone, which means that their muscles are stiff, often resulting in awkward movements.

Dyskinetic cerebral palsy affects individuals’ abilities to control the movement of their limbs, making it difficult to sit and walk. Individuals with dyskinetic CP have muscle tone that varies between too tight and too loose. This muscle tone can vary from day to day or within a single day.

Individuals with ataxic cerebral palsy have trouble with balance and coordination. This can affect their abilities to walk and/or to perform movements that are quick or require a lot of control, like writing.

Mixed cerebral palsy refers to individuals who show symptoms of more than one type of CP. The most common form of mixed CP is spastic-dyskinetic CP.

What are the Risk Factors?

Injuries or infections are known to cause acquired CP, which accounts for a small percentage of individuals with CP. For the majority of individuals with CP, however, the specific cause is not known. Until recently, the primary cause was thought to be lack of oxygen during birth. Now, however, scientists estimate that this causes only a small number of CP cases.

Some risk factors of CP include low birthweight, premature birth, infections during pregnancy, jaundice and kernicterus, certain medical conditions of the mother, and birth complications.

Because the cause of congenital CP is not fully known, little can be done to prevent it. However, expecting mothers can reduce risk factors by treating any conditions before becoming pregnant, if possible, and by getting early and regular prenatal care.

Leave a comment

Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month: A Brief History

The history of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month (DD Month) can be traced to 1987, when Ronald Reagan first declared March as a month dedicated to raising awareness and “according to our fellow citizens with such disabilities both encouragement and the opportunities they need to lead productive lives and to achieve their full potential.”

In the 33 years since Reagan’s declaration, attitudes toward individuals with developmental disabilities have shifted and legislative initiatives and programs have increasingly supported the independence of individuals with developmental disabilities. However, there is still work to be done, as we learn more every day about this broad group of conditions. And the more we learn, the better equipped we are to fulfill that vision of inclusion and independence that has been a part of DD month since the beginning.

Defining Developmental Disabilities

According to the CDC, developmental disabilities are a range of conditions characterized by impairment in physical, learning, language, or behavioral development. Developmental disabilities generally begin early in life – often before birth – and are typically lifelong conditions that affect a person’s ability to function day-to-day.

This represents a range of different conditions, which can cause physical and/or learning impairments of varying severity. As a result, the individuals’ needs may vary significantly as well. However, these represent a group of disabilities that are often grouped together – so much so that most states even have waiver programs and services specifically designed to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities.

How have such programs developed? To answer this, let’s look at the history of developmental disabilities in America, which centers on two related 20th century initiatives.

Developmental Disability Legislation

This story begins in 1963, when John F. Kennedy signed the law that would eventually be known as the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act (DD Act). This legislation, which began as an amendment to the Social Security Act, was the first major legislation to combat mental illness and intellectual disabilities.

In 1963, when this law was signed, developmental disabilities received very little federal funding or attention. However, Kennedy, whose sister Rosemary was born with intellectual disabilities, made them a priority for his administration. Partly because of the Kennedy family’s commitment to intellectual disabilities and partly because of the commitment of various grassroots movements by family members of individuals with developmental disabilities, public attitudes toward individuals with developmental disabilities shifted significantly in the years that followed.

In 1970, Kennedy’s amendment was expanded and renamed. It became known as the Developmental Disabilities Services and Facilities Construction Amendment of 1970, making this the first law to introduce the term “developmental disability.” This allowed for an expansion of the previous law, which had only included individuals with intellectual disabilities, to cover individuals with cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and certain other neurological conditions that occur in childhood.

This law became the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act in 1975 and was amended several times in the next decade. The 1975 amendment demonstrated a significant shift away from institutionalization and toward independence, as it introduced language requiring “habilitation in the least restrictive setting that maximizes developmental potential” and specified that public funds should not be provided to institutions that don’t meet minimum quality-of-life standards. In 1978, the law was again amended, this time to include definitions of service areas that are necessary in order to support individuals with developmental disabilities. With these changes, the DD Act increasingly stressed independent living within the community over institutionalization.

Meanwhile, another shift was happening. Examinations of Medicaid spending in the early 80s revealed that a disproportionate amount of resources was being used for institutional long-term care. As a result of these findings, Medicaid began looking for alternatives to expensive institutions, which led to the development of the Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) waiver program. This program was established in 1981 and was incorporated into the Social Security Act in 1983.

This program gave states the ability to meet the needs of people who prefer to get long-term care services and supports in their home or community, rather than in an institutional setting. It also enabled states to identify populations that were at risk of institutionalization and to design waiver programs to meet their specific needs.

As the history of the DD Act demonstrates, individuals with developmental disabilities were one such population. And by the time the HCBS waiver program was established, service areas and alternatives to institutionalization had already been identified. So, it makes sense that many states, including Florida, developed programs to serve the needs of individuals with developmental disabilities.

Florida’s Waiver Program

The DD Act has redefined developmental disability many times since 1970, when the term was first introduced. The 1978 amendment switched from a list of specific conditions to the more generalized approach that we still use today. As a result, conditions that qualify as developmental disabilities for the purposes of the HCBS waiver may vary from state to state.

Florida Statutes recognize seven conditions that, in their most severe forms, meet the requirements established by the DD Act and Medicaid rules. They are autism, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, Down syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, Phelan-McDermid syndrome, and intellectual disabilities. Each has unique challenges that impact the services required to support affected individuals. But this diversity of needs also means that there is diversity in terms of capabilities.

We can honor the spirit of DD Month by recognizing the diversity within this group and celebrating the steps that we’ve taken to ensure that individuals with developmental disabilities continue to receive the encouragement, opportunities, and support that are the foundation on which DD Month was founded 33 years ago.

Leave a comment

APD Celebrates Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day at the Capitol

February 11 was Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day in Florida, as declared by Governor Ron DeSantis. To commemorate this day, organizations, agencies, and disability advocates from all over the state gathered at the Capitol for the 2020 Developmental Disabilities and Transportation Awareness Day event.

In addition to Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day, this event commemorated Public Transportation and Transportation Disadvantaged Legislative Awareness Day, which is also observed on February 11. The Florida Developmental Disabilities Council (FDDC), The Arc of Florida, the Florida Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged, and the Florida Public Transportation Association worked together to host this event, which highlighted the intersection between transportation concerns and those of individuals with developmental disabilities.

Disability advocates came from all over the state for the opportunity to meet with legislators to advocate for individuals with developmental disabilities, share what the iBudget waiver has meant to them, and highlight the need for alternative approaches to transportation. Transportation is an issue that affects many individuals with developmental disabilities who often rely on public transportation and/or require vehicle modifications to meet their transportation needs.

As a part of the event, display booths were set up on the second floor of the Capitol Rotunda, where various organizations, including APD, shared information and answered questions about available resources and issues affecting individuals with developmental disabilities. There were vehicle displays in the courtyard, where various transportation organizations could share valuable resources and information.

The day also included a full program with speeches by advocates and policy makers. Speakers included Rep. Ray Rodrigues, who spoke out in support of people with developmental disabilities, FDDC Executive Director Valerie Breen, The Arc of Florida’s Kirk Hall, and APD Director Barbara Palmer, among others.

In her speech, Director Palmer thanked attendees for their support and highlighted Governor DeSantis’s Bolder, Brighter, Better Future budget recommendation, which proposes $1.5 billion to serve Floridians with developmental disabilities: “I mainly want to thank you all for taking the time to come up here and to talk with your legislators and educate them about your lives. I cannot tell you how important that is. The Governor has put together a really good budget and also is supporting you all moving forward, making things better in your life.”

Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day offers an invaluable opportunity to educate the public on issues that are central to Florida’s most vulnerable population but also to show support for the iBudget waiver and other crucial services that individuals with disabilities rely on daily.

In the words of Family Care Council Florida Chairperson Patricia Oglesby: “Family Care Council members across the state are excited to be in Tallahassee for Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day. It is a great opportunity to meet with our legislators to share concerns, as well as express our gratitude for the services and programs that help Floridians with developmental disabilities live in their communities. We are truly stronger together!”

For more about Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day and the Developmental Disabilities and Transportation Awareness Day event, check out the Governor’s proclamation, event video, and pictures, below.

Leave a comment

Human Trafficking Awareness: We All Have a Responsibility to Prevent Abuse

On Saturday, you may find yourself surrounded by people dressed in blue. This is because January 11 is Human Trafficking Awareness Day, and in honor of this day, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) hosts the Blue Campaign – a nationwide movement to bring awareness to the dangers of human trafficking.

Human trafficking refers to a form of abuse and exploitation. It is the act of using force, fraud, or coercion to recruit, hide, transport, sell, or buy a person for sex, labor, or services as a slave. Human trafficking occurs in every country, including the United States. Although this is a national issue, Florida is one of the states where human trafficking is most likely to occur. In fact, it’s ranked third in the nation for potential human trafficking.

People with developmental disabilities are especially likely to experience abuse, neglect, or exploitation, which is why APD has a Zero Tolerance initiative in place to protect this vulnerable population from human trafficking and other violations. The Zero Tolerance initiative is APD’s aggressive and proactive approach to dealing with all forms of abuse, neglect, exploitation, or sexual misconduct committed against an individual with a developmental disability.

Awareness is a key part of this initiative, as it takes everyone in a community to take a stand against abuse. We are all responsible for recognizing and reporting abusive, exploitative, and neglectful behavior. In fact, reporting such behavior is required by law.

Signs of abuse may be physical, as many traffickers beat or torture their victims. However, often, the signs are less obvious. Abusers may lie, withhold wages, threaten harm, intimidate, humiliate, or make false promises of love or friendship and/or money or reward to manipulate their victims.

Human Trafficking Awareness Day offers an opportunity for us to educate ourselves on the issue, learn the signs, and report if we suspect anything. Here are some ways that you can participate in this awareness day and help bring an end to human trafficking and other forms of abuse:

  • Take part in DHS’s Blue Campaign by wearing blue and sharing relevant social media content. The campaign’s website even has a library of social media posts that you can use to help promote the cause.
  • Learn the signs of abuse. One good place to start is the Zero Tolerance initiative section of the APD website, where there is an extensive list of the signs associated with different types of abuse, among other educational resources.
  • For an overview of APD’s Zero Tolerance initiative, read this brochure.
  • Sign up for APD’s Zero Tolerance training, which is required for APD providers but is also available to the general public.

Remember, if you suspect that someone is being abused, neglected, or exploited, you are required by law to report them.

Call 911 if the person’s life or health is in immediate danger. Otherwise, you can report suspicious behavior by calling the Florida Abuse Hotline toll-free at 1-800-96-ABUSE (1-800-962-2873), filing a report online at reportabuse.dcf.state.fl.us, or faxing a statement to 800-914-0044.

For more information on human trafficking or to report potential human trafficking situations, please visit https://humantraffickinghotline.org/.