Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities

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October is Disability Employment Awareness Month

On October 11, APD celebrated Disability Employment Awareness Month by co-hosting the 14th annual Disability Employment Awareness Celebration. The event, which APD hosted in collaboration with Blind Services and Vocational Rehabilitation, was held at Tallahassee City Hall.

About 200 people attended this year’s celebration, which was open to the public. Attendees included Rocky Hanna, Mayor Dailey, Mayor Pro Tem Curtis Richardson, and other state leaders. Mayor Dailey spoke at the event, as did leaders from APD, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, Vocational Rehabilitation, and ABLE United. Other speakers included Lively Technical College Office Assistant Jeremy Richard, Millennium Nail & Day Spa Trainee Torey Roberts, and Cayer Behavioral Group Office Assistant Connor Yeatts, who shared what having a job means to them.

Twelve companies from across the state were recognized with Exceptional Employer Awards for their strong commitment to hiring and retaining people with unique abilities. This year’s ceremony recognized the following employers:

  • Aramark Dining Services at Jacksonville University
  • Army and Air Force Exchange Service
  • Bob’s Space Racers
  • Chartwells at the University of Miami
  • Cleveland Clinic Martin Health
  • The Home Depot
  • Florida Department of Revenue
  • Golden Corral
  • The Chocolate Spectrum
  • Wawa, Inc.
  • ZVRS of Clearwater

These employers each received commemorative plaques that were donated by RESPECT of Florida and made by people with disabilities, who also presented them to the winners at the ceremony.

APD Director Barbara Palmer explained why it’s so important to recognize these employers and their contributions: “These business leaders know that individuals with unique abilities are some of the most dependable employees within their organization. We are trying to spread the word that hiring a person with a disability makes good business sense.”

This year’s event may be over, but there are still plenty of ways that you can join us in celebrating Disability Employment Awareness Month:


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Florida’s Employment First Initiative

On October 8, 2013, Governor Rick Scott issued Executive Order 13-284, where he reaffirmed his commitment to employment as “the most direct and cost-effective means in helping an individual achieve independence and self-fulfillment, which should be the primary objective of public assistance programs wherever possible.” The Executive Order defines employment as follows:

“…integrated employment, including supported employment, customized employment, and self-employment, where an individual is paid by an employer at minimum wage or greater or receives earnings through one’s self-employment business, fully integrated in the community workforce, with a goal of maximum self-sufficiency.”

On May 7, 2014, the Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities; the Florida Department of Education, Bureau of Exceptional Education and Student Services, Division of Blind Services, and Division of Vocational Rehabilitation; Florida Department of Economic Opportunity; CareerSource Florida; Florida Department of Children and Families, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Office; Florida Developmental Disabilities Council; and Florida Association of Rehabilitation Facilities (hereafter referred to as the partners) signed the Employment First Initiative Interagency Cooperative Agreement, committing to improve competitive employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities. This five-year agreement took effect July 1, 2014, and it represents unprecedented interagency collaboration to ensure this commitment is instituted in the state’s programs that serve individuals with disabilities to help them achieve successful employment and independence in their communities.

As the state partners work toward the objectives outlined in the Interagency Cooperative Agreement, our desire is to make you aware of these efforts and how you can support this collaboration within your community.

The Florida Employment First Grassroots Group, which consists of quarterly webinar sessions for local stakeholders to discuss important issues related to employment, is one tool that was created to help facilitate local collaboration. In January, the Grassroots Group will host a discussion on ways to build and expand collaborative teams. We strongly encourage you to participate.

Finally, we want to inform you of our interagency communication efforts to promote more employment opportunities within the business community. The partners recently launched the “Abilities Work” Communications Plan, a statewide effort to promote a consistent message of awareness to employers and assist with the recruitment of qualified applicants. In the upcoming year, we will coordinate these efforts with our state and local partners to inform more employers of the opportunities individuals with disabilities offer their workforce and community.

Recently, the Employment First workgroup launched the Abilities Work job portal at abilitieswork.employflorida.com and Help Desk at 844-245-3405.  More information about these two initiatives will be forthcoming.

In the coming months, the partners will provide more specific information on these collaborative initiatives and offer ways for you to get involved.

We hope this information is helpful, and look forward to working with you in carrying out this long-term, collaborative commitment to empowering individuals with disabilities to compete in Florida’s economy!

For further information, please contact APD State Office Employment Coordinator LeeAnn Herman at leeann.herman@apdcares.org.

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TALLAHASSEE – Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet highlighted recent efforts to promote more employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, and efforts to assist employers in finding and hiring these talented individuals to be part of their workforce. Yesterday morning’s presentation included an overview of the new Abilities Work Web Portal and Help Desk to help link employers to job seekers who have disabilities.

Governor Scott said, “Our mission is to ensure that every Floridian can get a great job. I would like to thank everyone involved with the Abilities Work Web Portal and Help Desk for making employment a reality for many more Floridians. Connecting Floridians with disabilities to employers benefits everyone, and we must continue working each day to make sure everyone who wants a job can have one.”

The Abilities Work Web Portal and Help Desk are key components of a larger effort, the Employment First Initiative, announced last year. The portal and help desk are designed to help employers recruit and hire more applicants with disabilities who are ready and able to work, and inform them of the available support that can help an individual succeed on the job. This initiative was recommended by Governor Scott’s Commission on Jobs for Floridians with Disabilities to better link employers to qualified job-seekers with disabilities in their communities. This also supports the established commitment among multiple interagency partners involved with the Employment First Initiative to prioritize employment for individuals with disabilities served by state programs to help them achieve greater independence and self-fulfillment, as required by Governor Scott’s Executive Order 13-284.

The Governor’s Commission on Jobs for Floridians with Disabilities, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), the Florida Department of Education’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Division of Blind Services, and Bureau of Exceptional Education and Student Services, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, the Department of Children and Families’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Program, the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council, the Florida Association of Rehabilitation Facilities, and CareerSource Florida, all participants in the Employment First Initiative, have partnered to implement the Abilities Work Web Portal and Help Desk.

DEO created the Abilities Work Web Portal within the Employ Florida Marketplace, the state’s official online job-matching and career development tool, to accomplish this purpose. The new web portal will help employers identify qualified job candidates with disabilities and post job openings. The portal will also assist job seekers and students with disabilities in finding job opportunities and link them with career centers and other resources that can help them obtain and keep employment.

During the 2014 Legislative Session, Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature provided funding to create the Abilities Work Help Desk within the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) to accompany the web portal. Employers can reach the Help Desk through a toll-free number, 1-844-245-3405. It is staffed by three knowledgeable professionals who can assist employers interested in recruiting individuals with disabilities as part of their workforce, and provide them with information and referral services that can support their business needs.

DEO Executive Director Jesse Panuccio said, “Gainful employment affirms the inherent worth of an individual by providing a productive outlet for our talents, skills, and dedication. A job is a life-changing opportunity for all Floridians and we are excited to be able to assist Floridians with disabilities on this journey.”

“The Abilities Work Web Portal and Help Desk will connect educated and skilled Floridians with disabilities with employers in their communities, strengthening our workforce and our economy,” said Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart. “I’m pleased the Department of Education’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Division of Blind Services and Bureau of Exceptional Education and Student Services could collaborate with such dedicated partners to bring this project to life.”

Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) Director Barbara Palmer said, “I am very excited to see the launch of both the Abilities Work job portal and help desk. Helping people with disabilities get and keep jobs is a top priority for APD. Also, as a member of the Governor’s Commission on Jobs for Floridians with Disabilities, we are happy to see this idea become a reality. People with disabilities are just like everyone else—they want the opportunity to prove themselves, and the job portal and help desk are going to assist them in accomplishing their goals.”

“Individuals with disabilities, like everyone else, want their shot at success and to make a lasting contribution to our state. We believe employers want to hire these individuals – not because of a disability – but because they recognize the talent and value they bring to their business. “Abilities Work” represents Florida’s commitment to help employers recognize and find this talent, and will expand opportunities for these individuals to succeed in their career and life endeavors,” said David Darm, Executive Director, Governor’s Commission on Jobs for Floridians with Disabilities.

“Dedicated and hard-working, Floridians with disabilities have abilities that make them a true asset in the workplace,” said CareerSource Florida President and CEO Chris Hart IV. “The new Abilities Work portal enhances our collective efforts to connect these ready-to-work individuals with employers who are ready to hire.”

Aleisa McKinlay, Director of the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), said, “VR’s mission is to help Floridians with disabilities get or keep a job, and enhance their independence. Employers are an essential part of this equation. The Abilities Work Web Portal and Help Desk are designed to link Florida’s employers with the supports and services they need to find, hire, and retain qualified employees with disabilities. Together, we can ensure that these talented folks are a vital part of the workforce and their communities!”

Division of Blind Services (DBS) Director Robert L. Doyle, III, said, “The launch of the Abilities Work Web Portal and Help Desk is an exciting stride in our continuous effort to increase job opportunities for individuals with disabilities. We have incredibly talented individuals with a wide variety of skills seeking employment through our vocational rehabilitation programs; these new tools will assist in matching qualified candidates with job opportunities while also increasing awareness amongst employers. We at DBS are especially excited that the portal is accessible to blind and visually impaired job seekers who use screen reading software and other assistive technology.”

Monica Verra-Tirado, the Bureau Chief of the Exceptional Education and Student Services of FDOE, stated, “Positive post-school outcomes are a major indicator of the success of our education programs for students with disabilities, so we are excited to be working with our partners on the Employment First effort. We look forward to seeing more of our students obtaining successful employment with support from the Abilities Work Web Portal and collaborative partnerships.”

Debra Dowds, Florida Developmental Disabilities Council (FDDC) Executive Director said, “We are delighted to be a partner in this initiative. The collaborative efforts among major agencies and organizations serving individuals with disabilities are unprecedented in our state, and these efforts are beginning to pay off with tangible products and resources that will assist individuals with disabilities in securing competitive employment!”

Ute Gazioch, Director of the Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health at the Department of Children and Families said, “The Department of Children and Families, Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health is very excited to be a partner in this important initiative.  Employment provides a sense of purpose, hope and opportunity for independence, all essential factors to recovery for persons with behavioral health conditions.”

“On behalf of the membership of Florida ARF and the RESPECT of Florida program, we are pleased to be a part of Florida’s Employment First initiative and are excited to see the positive outcomes that are being generated by the partner agencies. Accomplishments such as the Abilities Work Portal and Help Desk demonstrate the participants’ commitment to creating real jobs for people with disabilities,” said Suzanne Sewell, President & CEO, Florida Association of Rehabilitation Facilities (ARF).

For more information, please visit the Abilities Work Web Portal at http://AbilitiesWork.employflorida.com.   The Help Desk can be contacted at 1-844-245-3405 or AbilitiesWorkHD@vr.fldoe.org.

About DEO

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity combines the state’s economic, workforce, and community development efforts.  This new approach helps expedite economic development projects to fuel job creation in competitive communities.  For more information, including valuable resources for employers and job seekers, please visit www.floridajobs.org.

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Disability Employment Awareness Month Resolution

WHEREAS, Florida’s Agency for Persons with Disabilities provides services to more than 50,000 Floridians with developmental disabilities annually so they can live and work in their local communities; and

WHEREAS, Florida’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Blind Services programs within the Department of Education, assist people with disabilities so they may become employed; and

WHEREAS, Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity, through Career Centers, help people with disabilities, including veterans, locate jobs; and

WHEREAS, these four programs have had an overwhelming impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of citizens with disabilities by offering services including job placement, training, support services, and job coaching; and

WHEREAS, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities has assisted 3,581 Floridians with disabilities with maintaining gainful employment, and Vocational Rehabilitation assisted 7,214  people, and Blind Services helped 713 individuals with achieving their employment goals last year; and

WHEREAS, The Able Trust, also known as the Florida Endowment Foundation for Vocational Rehabilitation, has awarded more than $29 million in grants to organizations throughout Florida, enabling thousands of Florida’s citizens with disabilities to enter the workforce; and

WHEREAS, Florida has the third largest population of disabled veterans in the nation with more than 272,000, including more than 2,500 wounded Floridians from service in Afghanistan and Iraq; and

WHEREAS, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Department of Economic Opportunity are working together to find employment opportunities for veterans with disabilities; and

WHEREAS, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, Vocational Rehabilitation, Blind Services, Department of Economic Opportunity, Department of Veterans’ Affairs, and The Able Trust have substantially contributed to the tax revenues of Florida by helping individuals with disabilities go to work, thus enabling many to leave public assistance and become taxpaying citizens; and

WHEREAS, Florida’s Disability Mentoring Day is hosted on October 15th which provides mentoring and job shadowing employment opportunities for students and job seekers with disabilities; and

WHEREAS, Florida joins the rest of the Nation in recognizing the contributions of the 5.7 million Floridians with disabilities by celebrating October 2014, as Disability Employment Awareness Month with the theme Abilities Work.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Governor and Cabinet of the State of Florida do hereby recognize October 2014, as


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Cabinet to Declare Disability Employment Month

TALLAHASSEE, FL— Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi will introduce a resolution at tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting declaring October as Disability Employment Awareness Month in Florida.

Department of Health employee, Jonathan Show, will address Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet on the importance of including people with disabilities in the workforce.

The Cabinet meeting will begin at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, September 23, in the Cabinet meeting room on the lower level of the Capitol Building.

Along with Show, leaders from the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, Vocational Rehabilitation, Blind Services, Veterans’ Affairs, Governor’s Commission on Jobs for Floridians with Disabilities, and the Able Trust will be there to accept the resolution.

The Agency for Persons with Disabilities 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).

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An Amazing Bank Teller by James Vidrine

Rachel Doeble is a determined young woman who pursues her personal and career goals, and achieves them. Her career in the banking industry began in 2004, and she has been working full-time since June 2011 at Regions Bank in North Naples.

Doeble receives services from the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) in Naples.

She is married to her husband, John, and with his three children from a previous marriage, plus her young daughter, they created a large family with four children. She truly has full days.

Things have not always been this bright for Doeble. She entered this world as a three month premature infant. At her birth, she tipped the scale at less than three pounds. She spent the first six weeks of her life in the hospital, gaining weight and increasing her strength, so she could go home.

Doeble’s parents, however, soon noticed problems with her development. In her 15th month, her pediatrician broke the difficult news to her parents. Her delayed development was due to cerebral palsy. This news, although a shock, did not deter them whatsoever. Her parents worked with her at home to master the developmental skills that other toddlers and preschool children seemed to achieve without effort.

When Doeble entered kindergarten, the work she and her parents had engaged in for years paid off handsomely. Rachel was able to walk independently, with some difficulty at times, but without the need for a wheelchair. She was described by others at school, as a very friendly and a likeable youngster, with excellent cognitive and vocabulary skills. Her teachers also noted she could be stubborn at times.

Perhaps it was her stubbornness that contributed to her ongoing ability to engage the world with a positive attitude and determination to succeed. Doeble recalls, “As a child I had difficulty maneuvering around in school. I had to learn how to ask for help when I needed it, but also how to decline offers for assistance that I did not need or want.”

Doeble’s positive and caring attitude and her determination to succeed have not gone unnoticed by her supervisors at Regions Bank. Her direct supervisor, Head Teller Kathy Wessling describes Rachel’s work as amazing and fabulous. She depends on Rachel as her right hand at work. Wessling said, “Rachel is a very inspiring person. For someone that has a disability, she does not hold back on what she needs to do or what she wants to do. She has no fear.” Bank Manager Todd Ruggeri adds, “Rachel has the best outlook on life. She never gets upset or discouraged.”

APD Human Services Counselor Jose Delvalle is Doeble’s Support Coordinator. Delvalle said, “When I first met Rachel, I saw a person who wants to achieve her goals. She is a capable and an independent person who can handle any situation with thoughtfulness.”

Doeble is a living a success story. Not only does she work full-time as a bank teller, but she is also a wife, mother, step-mother, and provides a loving home for her family. Doeble wants to encourage others that have a disability to be persistent and persevere through difficulties and roadblocks, to reach their dreams. Doeble said, “Don’t let negative thoughts get in your way. Play to your own strengths and this will assist you. Never be afraid to ask for help, especially at your workplace.”

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Increases for ADT and Group Home Providers

Some Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) customers and providers will see a financial increase beginning July 1.  APD group home providers will receive a $40 per person increase for room and board. Also, APD customers will receive a $40 increase in their Personal Needs Allowance if living in an APD-licensed homes. The rates were last increased in 2008.

Adult day training providers will receive about a two percent increase in their rates for serving APD customers starting July 1. This increase was approved by the Legislature in May. For additional information regarding the rate increases, contact your APD Regional Office.


To view more stories from the July issue of The Champion visit us online at: http://apdcares.org/champion/