Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities

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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


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.


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.


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/ .


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Partners in Policymaking will change your life

Partners in Policymaking is a leadership-training program for self-advocates and parents of children with developmental disabilities. It provides state-of-the-art information about disability issues and builds the competencies necessary to become advocates who can effectively influence system change.

The Florida Developmental Disability Council is currently seeking applicants who either have a developmental disability or who are parents of children with disabilities to participate in the program. Applications for the class of 2016 can be found at http://www.fddc.org/about/partners-in-policymaking  or by contacting Stacey Hoaglund at 954-252-8764 or via email shoaglundpartner@gmail.com.

This program is designed to provide information, training, and skill building so those who participate may obtain the most appropriate services possible for themselves and others. Application deadline is July 1, 2016.

Partners in Policymaking has nearly 500 graduates in Florida and over 18,000 nationwide. There is no cost to the participant for attending the training sessions. Mileage and meals to and from the training site, as well as expenses while at the training (lodging and meals), respite care and attendant services (when applicable) will be covered.

This training initiative is funded by the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council.

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Maximum Potential Kids – Free training for parents & providers

          The Arc of Florida and the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) have partnered to offer an online, video-based training series called “Maximum Potential Kids” (MPK). It is being offered at no cost to family members of APD’s customers on the iBudget Florida Medicaid waiver and on the waiting list, as well as approved providers. It’s a chance to learn to use Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) techniques while working with individuals to build new skills and manage challenging behaviors.
          MPK includes 17 modules (six hours of training) and access to supplemental materials. It can be accessed by requesting a “coupon code” through any APD regional office. Participants can view the modules on the Internet at a pace that fits their schedules.The concepts covered include: the use of reinforcement, prompting, and teaching in the natural environment and the use of behavior management techniques. MPK training will be available through June 30, 2016.
          The Arc of Florida worked with the Family Care Council to review these modules. Arc of Florida CEO Deborah Linton stated, “A priority area for us is to bring training for all
stakeholders into the 21st century. A well-educated and trained workforce and stakeholder community will help us to achieve higher quality services and oversight for those we serve.”
          A limited number of coupon codes will be available to approved providers who are interested in enhancing or developing ABA skills. Upon completing all 17 modules, a parent or provider staff member can request an MPK certificate of completion.
          If you are interested in taking this training, contact your local APD area behavior analyst. Visit apdcares.org/region to get contact information for the APD regional office that serves your area.

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Florida ABLE Savings Program Begins July 1

Soon people with disabilities in Florida will be able to have tax-free savings accounts to help pay for services needed in the future, through the Florida ABLE Savings Program. This would be in addition to services the individual might be receiving through the Medicaid program, including iBudget Florida, the supplemental security income program, insurance coverage, the beneficiary’s employment, and other sources. An ABLE account can fund a variety of essential expenses including medical and dental care, education, transportation, community-based supports, employment training, assistive technology, and housing. Money saved in an ABLE account will not count against an individual’s eligibility for any federal benefits program. The Florida ABLE Savings Program starts on July 1, 2016. Visit myablesavings.com for more information.

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Gatorland to Officially Launch Wheelchair-Accessible Gator Gauntlet Zip Line

Exciting ride is inclusive to people with a variety of mobility challenges

(ORLANDO, Fl.)–Gatorland, the “Alligator Capital of the World,” is officially launching its newest zip line ride, the Gator Gauntlet, an attraction accessible to park patrons with mobility challenges or other disabilities. The ride, which is wheelchair accessible, allows participants to travel 350 feet down a zip line, soaring over the park and its lake of giant alligators.

To help kick off the launch, the 110-acre park is offering the Gator Gauntlet ride free for several groups during a special three-day promotion. On Thursday, Feb. 4, military veterans with mobility challenges can reserve a free ride on the zip line. On Friday, Feb. 5, FREE rides are available to Florida Disabled Outdoors Association (FDOA) members with mobility challenges. Middle- to high-school age children from Orange and Osceola schools who have mobility challenges can ride free on Saturday Feb 6.

During this three-day launch event, Gatorland will provide each Gator Gauntlet participant with a thumb drive that contains digital images of their ride. In addition, a free lunch will be available for each zip line rider and up to three members of his or her party.  Admission into the park is complimentary to these riders and up to three members of their party as well.

Interested Gator Gauntlet riders must meet certain strength, coordination and size requirements to ride the accessible zip line. For more information and to reserve a spot during this special promotion, contact Gatorland at 407-855-5496, ext. 0.  Space is limited.

“We’re very excited about the launch of the Gator Gauntlet accessible zip line—we’re not aware of any other place in the Southeast that’s offering this type of experience,” said Gatorland president and CEO, Mark McHugh. “One of the primary objectives at Gatorland is to make our attractions accessible to as many people as possible.”

Gatorland worked closely with the FDOA, which provided consultation on the design and construction of the Gator Gauntlet. The Tallahassee-based nonprofit organization promotes recreational opportunities for people with disabilities.   

“It is so important that we allow families to participate in all of our park experiences without anyone being excluded,” said McHugh. “In addition to accessible viewing stations in all of our shows, the park’s very first ride that began tours in 1971, the Gatorland Express Train Ride, was upgraded to allow wheelchair access and security on the train cars in 2001.   We are constantly looking for ways to make our park a safe and enjoyable experience for all of our guests regardless of their unique needs.”

In areas inaccessible to wheelchairs, such as a sand pit where patrons can get close to the gators, McHugh said they accommodate people who use wheelchairs by bringing the animals to them for an up-close encounter. “You should see the looks of excitement on their faces,” he said.

“It was a great pleasure to partner with Gatorland on this project,” said David Jones, CEO of the FDOA. “They share our enthusiasm that family and friends of all abilities should recreate together. We were happy to assist them and we hope a lot of people take advantage of this ride.”

For more information, visit www.gatorland.com.

About Gatorland

Gatorland is a 110-acre theme park and wildlife preserve, combining “Old Florida” charm with exciting new exhibits and entertainment.  The park opened as a roadside attraction in 1949.  Today, it provides affordable-priced family fun featuring thousands of alligators, crocodiles, a free flight aviary, breeding marsh with observation tower, petting zoo, nature walk, educational wildlife programs, Gatorland award-winning gift shop, Florida’s best train-ride, restaurant, Gator Gully Splash Park and one-of-a-kind shows including the Gator Wrestlin’ Show, Gator Jumparoo and the Up-close Encounters Show.  And, don’t miss the world’s largest collection of giant white alligators in the White Gator Swamp and the all new Screamin’ Gator Zip Line featuring over 1,200 feet of high flying thrills, five intense zip lines and a massive 150 ft. suspension bridge. To find out more about “Orlando’s only Theme Park with Bite and Attitude,” visit www.gatorland.com or call 1-800-393-JAWS.

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The Florida First Budget Will Make Florida First for Supporting Persons with Disabilities by Eliminating the Critical Needs Waiting List for the Third Year in a Row

Historic $1.2 Billion Investment will Support Floridians with Disabilities

TALLAHASSEE, FL— Governor Rick Scott is recommending $1.2 billion in total funding for APD, an increase of 23.6 million. This historic investment will eliminate the critical needs waiting list for the third year in a row, and help Floridians with disabilities live, learn and work in their communities.

Governor Scott said, “Florida has made significant investments in supporting individuals with disabilities, and I am excited to announce that we will continue on that path by eliminating the critical needs waiting list for the third year in a row. This historic investment will provide opportunities for Floridians with disabilities to receive the services and assistance they need to live more independently, find a great job, and achieve their dreams in our state.”

The “Florida First” proposed budget includes:

  • $15 million to enroll more than 700 individuals with developmental disabilities on the critical needs waiting list to the APD Home and Community-Based Services Medicaid waiver. This is the fourth year the Governor has recommended money to serve those on the waiver waiting list.
  • $10 million to reinstate Department of Education funding for the Adults with Disabilities program.
  • $1 million for the Employment Enhancement Project to serve people on the waiting list who want to go to work. This funding will pay for supported employment and supported internship services for people with developmental disabilities.
  • $2.6 million for staff to perform customer needs assessments using the Questionnaire for Situational Information.
  • $400,000 for a Medicaid waiver Provider Rate Study.

APD Director Barbara Palmer said, “I deeply thank Governor Scott for his ongoing support of individuals with disabilities. For the fourth year, Governor Scott is recommending funding to move people off the waiting list. This money will allow everyone with critical needs to enroll onto the Medicaid waiver in the coming year. I sincerely appreciate Governor Scott’s confidence in APD and compassion for those we serve.”

Family Care Council Florida Chairperson Pauline Lipps said, “We are excited about Governor Scott’s Florida First budget that moves 700 people with developmental disabilities from the waiver waiting list to being provided a full array of community services through the waiver.  This is very important to our families, and I am so pleased.  Additionally, funding for continued employment efforts are vital to individuals with disabilities so they can go to work just like everyone else.”

Betty Kay Clements, parent and past chairperson of the Family Care Council Florida, said, “The additional money being recommended by Governor Scott in his Florida First budget to reduce the number of people on the waiver waiting list is greatly appreciated.”

The Association of Support Coordination Agencies of Florida Chairperson Janice Phillips said, “We want to extend our ongoing appreciation to Governor Scott who has embraced the challenges people with developmental disabilities face every day. Recommending funding for the fourth year to move individuals off the waiting list is great news. Also, money to help individuals achieve their employment goals is extremely important because it allows them to increase their independence.”

Area 2 Family Care Council Chairperson Lou Ogburn said, “The Family Care Council is always pleased that folks are being moved from the Medicaid waiver waiting list to the waiver. This is important to our families. And additional funds for the new client data base will be helpful to all.”

Support Coordination Association of Florida Chairman David Alexander said, “On behalf of our association, I want to thank Governor Scott for financially supporting the needs of people with disabilities. Resources are in high demand for those with developmental disabilities, and we are pleased that more people will be able to receive community support through APD with this budget recommendation.”

Special Olympics Florida President/CEO Sherry Wheelock said, “Special Olympics Florida applauds Governor Scott for recognizing the needs of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Florida by dedicating critical funds that ensure their well-being. The Governor’s leadership and support in this area directly impacts the work of Special Olympics Florida by improving access to health care services, promoting inclusion at schools, and helping us build communities where all people are valued for their contributions.”

To view the complete list of Governor Scott’s budget recommendations, visit http://www.floridafirstbudget.com/HomeFY17.htm.

APD supports people with developmental disabilities to live, learn, and work in their communities.  The agency annually serves more than 50,000 Floridians with autism, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, intellectual disabilities, Down 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).