Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities

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A Great Opportunity for Savings with ABLE United

ABLE United will continue to waive account fees through July 1, 2018, in celebration of the program’s successful first year. Since its official launch on July 1, 2016, ABLE United has provided more than 1,000 Floridians with disabilities a new way to save for a better life experience.

ABLE United was made possible because of the passing of the Stephen Beck Jr. Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, which was signed into law nationally on December 19, 2014, and in Florida on May 21, 2015. The ABLE Act amended section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code to create tax-free savings accounts for individuals with disabilities.

ABLE United is Florida’s qualified ABLE program, which was established to encourage and assist people with disabilities to save private funds to support health, independence, and quality of life. It allows individuals to save up to $14,000 annually without affecting benefits like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid while the funds in the account grow tax-free. Funds can be used on qualified expenses covering a wide range of categories including housing, transportation, and basic living expenses.

Individuals must be Florida residents at the time of application and have a qualifying disability with onset prior to age 26. Opening an account usually takes about 15 minutes, and the individual with a disability owns the account, but an authorized person may open and oversee the account. There is no minimum contribution requirement, and you can save up to $14,000 per year – individually or with the help of family and friends.

To find out more about opening an ABLE United account, please visit http://www.ableunited.com/.

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Zero Tolerance

The Agency for Persons with Disabilities’ (APD) commitment to the awareness and prevention of abuse, neglect, and exploitation of those with developmental and intellectual disabilities is and has always been a top priority. Because we serve such a vulnerable population, abuse and its prevention has been a key focus for us. APD has a Zero Tolerance campaign to increase awareness and knowledge of how to prevent these horrendous actions. This campaign was launched in May to coincide with Adult Abuse Prevention Month and provides information on the signs and symptoms of abuse, ways to prevent abuse, and the proper steps to take when reporting abuse.

Abuse, neglect, and exploitation can often go undetected in many settings. It cannot only occur in a professional care setting such as a group home or school, but it can also happen in a more personal, familiar setting such as one’s own home or the home of family or friends.

APD has launched a social media campaign of tips every Tuesday utilizing the hashtag #SafetyTipTuesday on how to promote safety of those vulnerable to abuse, how to recognize warning signs, and how to proceed with proper actions. Be sure to follow our Facebook and Twitter pages to see these weekly posts.


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State Agencies Partner to Recruit Foster Parents for Children with Disabilities

By Director Barbara Palmer

In celebration of National Foster Care Month in May APD launched a new initiative to find more individuals to become foster parents for children with developmental and intellectual disabilities currently in the care of the Department of Children and Families (DCF). APD and DCF will work collaboratively with the 15 APD Family Care Councils and the 18 DCF community-based care agencies across the state to encourage individuals to explore foster parenting.

Foster parenting is a rewarding experience and gives a child the safe and caring home they need. The grassroots approach of linking potential foster parents with members of their local Family Care Councils will aide these parents in identifying resources and learning more about the overall experience of caring for a child with a developmental disability.

As Director of APD, I am grateful to all the exceptional partners across the state participating in this new initiative to help children with developmental and intellectual disabilities find quality foster homes. I know the Family Care Council members will provide vital support to those interested in becoming foster parents.

DCF is equally excited about this partnership. “Making the decision to welcome a child into your home is life changing, especially when caring for a child with special needs,” DCF Secretary Mike Carroll said. “But it is also an immensely rewarding experience, and we are working together to provide foster and adoptive parents with the resources they need to care for these extraordinary children.”

For support and information about fostering, you can get in contact with the FCCs by calling their toll-free number 1-800-470-8101. New foster parents will need to become licensed with DCF. For more information to help individuals learn about fostering or adopting, visit www.MyFLFamilies.com.

View our new informational card here


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Choking Prevention – a Priority for APD

The Clinical Supports unit at APD’s State Office collects data on all client deaths. Recently, a troubling trend was discovered: choking on food as a cause of death increased dramatically over a relatively brief period.

To address this, Registered Nurses in the Clinical Supports unit, with the generous financial support and assistance of the Arc of Florida, have created a cutting board that illustrates how to properly prepare food to prevent choking. The cutting boards visually show the most commonly ordered diet textures – pureed, ground, and cut to size – with true to size representations of ¼”, ½”, and 1” pieces of food. This will help food preparers ensure that the texture they are preparing is consistent with what is needed for an individual to eat safely.

Medical Case Managers statewide will be delivering the cutting boards to group homes and adult day training programs, along with technical assistance on strategies to prevent choking on food, how to recognize choking, and reminders on what to do when someone chokes. The Family Care Councils will also be given a supply of the cutting boards to distribute.

The cutting boards will help food preparers ensure that the texture they are preparing is consistent with what is needed for an individual to eat safely.


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Save for a Better Life Experience

After years of advocating, negotiating, and compromising, the Stephen Beck Jr. Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act was passed into law. The ABLE Act now allows for the creation of savings and investment accounts for people with disabilities without negatively impacting federal benefits. Florida is among the first states to implement the law, which created the ABLE United program.

ABLE United will allow Floridians with disabilities to save like never before – by receiving tax incentives to save for future expenses and building assets without risk of losing federal benefits such as SSI and Medicaid. Funds in an ABLE account can be used, tax-free, for living expenses such as housing, education, and health and wellness services.

ABLE United advantages:

  • Save tax-free for future expenses
  • Save while maintaining federal benefits
  • Save on fees – ABLE United offers the best value for Florida residents

Advocates and family members united more than a decade ago to create a grassroots movement that resulted in one of the most important pieces of legislation for the disability community in years. Now, we can unite for all to achieve a better life experience.For more information on ABLE United, go to ableunited.com.


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We Are Here to Make Life Better

 By Evelyn Alvarez, Southern Region Manager

We welcome our new Deputy Regional Operations Manager (ROM) Sherab Chodron to the Southern Region of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD). The region is very excited to have her join our team. Her background as an attorney with a master’s degree in public health management, and mental health experience is impressive. Sherab worked in Monroe County for the last 17 years, and her professional relationships and networks are a significant asset to jump start provider development, and further develop community resources for our customers.  She’s blended very well with the team, and has a huge heart to make a difference. Her passion truly complements the region.

Embrace Change

Having a deputy ROM on board is a change of pace for the region. Together, we are laying the ground work to further strengthen the regional office. With Sherab on board, we now have the opportunity to re-engineer how we do business and share more of the managerial duties. This allows us to increase APD’s presence in the community on a higher level, working with the Dade delegation, chambers, and local boards for greater advocacy, and to promote more community partnership opportunities.

We embrace this change as a positive initiative which gives us a new perspective that infuses new energy and empowers the staff.

Exceptional Team

southernRegionTeamThe Southern Region team is phenomenal and I am very honored to be amongst an amazing group of professionals!  We do our best when even in the most difficult circumstances.  It is during these challenging times that we give the best of ourselves. Our team unites and stays focused on what matters most – our APD customers. The level of professionalism and synergy is unmatched; everyone steps up as evidenced when the region experienced a high number of employee vacancies for an extended period of time. As a team we managed to make it through while maintaining the health and safety of the individuals we serve. Today, we have filled many of our vacant positions giving us a more robust workforce, and the opportunity to bring on some excellent new personnel.

The State Office staff is an integral part of our successes, and are always available to us, providing their support and guidance. We value and appreciate their professionalism, and the confidence that they have in our commitment to public service.

I credit how far we have come, not only to the incredible work that is being done throughout the regional offices, but also to Director Palmer’s leadership and that of the executive management team. We congratulate Director Palmer on her Senate confirmation as APD’s Director. Director Palmer’s consistent leadership continues to reinforce and establish our agency’s credibility. She has led us through some difficult times and we have prevailed.

Spirit to Serve

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We are here to help, we are here to serve, and we are here to make your life better!

We want to reassure anyone who walks through our doors that there is no wrong door. Helping them understand that we are able to assist them not only within our agency resources, but also by extending interagency collaborations and other community partnerships.

Our focus is making people’s lives better by helping them navigate the system and simplifying the process. It is about our staff having the spirit to serve our customers and families.

AdminSupports This is exemplified by the team’s dedicated, unwavering commitment, and compassion. Every member of the Southern Region team makes a difference by taking on countless additional assignments, and working to ensure people have opportunities in their communities. This is a dedicated group and we are here for the right reasons.

Strong Partnerships

Our partnerships with sister agencies, other governmental entities, and our local community-based care (CBC) agencies are solid. Having worked closely with the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) on issues has helped our partnership grow stronger.

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We share a common goal with DCF and have professional relationships at all levels. We collaborate on many issues. For example, DCF had a crisis about a year-and-a-half ago and they had to care for many sibling groups. They and the CBCs reached out to APD, and we were able to immediately assist. APD had vacant group homes that were not occupied and we made the homes available to DCF. This partnership allowed for large sibling groups (non-APD customers) to remain together during their out-of-home placements, and as a result, minimizing any further traumatic experiences to them. The same level of collaboration takes place when working with children and adult investigations. APD and DCF work very closely to maintain open lines of communications; working in collaboration in the best interest of the mutual customers that we serve.

Other examples also include strong partnerships with the Department of Education-Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), DCF substance abuse and mental health providers, as well as working with the courts in serving our forensic customers. For many years, we have had a contract for court liaison services. This approach has been very successful allowing us to foster expertise in working with forensic cases that involve individuals with disabilities and strengthen our relationship with the courts.

The court liaison staff are very knowledgeable of APD services and well informed when they go to court. This consistency and level of preparation has significantly improved our relationship with the courts, and has allowed us to regain credibility. When a judge has a problem or concern, it is not unusual that he or she will reach out to APD from the bench and trust that we will immediately address the matter. This successful partnership is also attributed to the stellar job that our legal department does daily, and the relationships that they have fostered throughout the years with the courts.

Focus on Quality Assurance

QAWorkstreamWe are focused on building the quality assurance (QA) work stream now that we have filled most vacancies. There is a concentrated effort on training providers and enhancing staff development to improve our QA.

We are also building momentum in enhancing our employment initiative goals, building partnerships through our chambers of commerce, and local businesses. South Florida is rich in resources and with some local grassroots efforts, we are able to expand the workforce development.  Most recently, the Southern Region developed opportunities for customers to complete internships and training in our APD offices.

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Our staff strive to continuously educate customers, parents, family members, and other caregivers in regard to accessing community resources. Serving individuals on the waiting list and connecting them with the means to meet their needs until they are able to receive waiver services makes an immense difference for our customers and their families. The Resource Directory continues to be extremely helpful to both the community and staff.

Additionally, we are also looking at new opportunities, such as the Florida International University’s (FIU) Embrace Program that focuses on affordable housing. There is a critical need for affordable housing in South Florida. Many people with developmental disabilities would be able to live independently with support services if they had access to affordable housing. One subgroup of this population that is greatly affected by the lack of affordable housing are APD customers with children, primarily single parents. It is our goal to pay special attention to these families with children under the age of six, and ensure that our customers and also their children are progressing and accessing necessary services.

Florida First Budget

We are very excited about the Florida First Budget as it will allow APD to serve more individuals from the waiting list. It is enormously rewarding when we can offer individuals on the waiting list the services they so greatly need. Our team is thrilled to be working toward elevating the consumer’s quality of life.

For more information about APD’s Southern region, please visit http://apd.myflorida.com/region/southern/ .