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Fla. Advocates For Developmentally Disabled Descend On Capitol, Talk Legislative Priorities

Thursday marked Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day at the Florida Capitol, and many advocates came to Tallahassee to speak to lawmakers about their legislative priorities related to people with developmental disabilities.

In the Capitol Courtyard Thursday, Agency for Persons with Disabilities Director Barbara Palmer is rallying a crowd of advocates and self-advocates of people with developmental disabilities.

Never, never, never give up,chanted Palmer. Never, never, never give up! Now, go march on the Capitol!

Many descended on the Capitol to speak to members of the Florida Legislature about their top legislative priorities and ways to further help those in need.

“We’re here to celebrate all of the providers and individuals with unique abilities and family members are here to talk with legislators the issues that affect their services and their lives. So, big day for everyone, and we’re real excited! It’s been a great turnout,” she added.

One self-advocate Amanda Baker was honored Thursday by the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council for her work in the community for helping people with developmental disabilities.

“Though I have been advocating for myself since I was a child, my drive to do advocacy work on a larger scale came when I started college, and a teacher filed a complaint against me when my chair got stuck in a restroom,” said Baker. “After I came out of a deep depression, I decided that that should never happen to anyone ever again.”

Right now, she’s the President of Elephant Herds Self-Advocacy Group of Panama City.

“The acronym Elephant Herds centers around the idea that people with disabilities are often the elephant in the room, but when we come together and we create herds of elephants, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish,” said Baker to applause from the crowd.

Some of the areas advocates hope to accomplish during the Florida Legislative Session are included in a plan championed by the Arc of Florida and Florida Developmental Disabilities Council.

FDDC Chair Sylvia James-Miller says the “Revitalizing Services for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities” plan includes more funds to begin stabilizing the iBudget system—which allows APD to help fund support services for those in need.

“The first part of the plan is funding to continue moving 2,039 individuals with developmental disabilities from the waitlist to the iBudget waiver,” she said to cheers. “During the last two years, a significant amount of individuals have been moved off the waitlist. However, many more individuals with developmental disabilities are still waiting for basic services to help them access their community.”

Florida’s Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera, who also made an appearance at Thursday’s rally, says disability advocates can rely on state officials to follow through.

“We are proposing to the legislature a sufficient amount of funds to again eliminate the critical needs waiting list at the Agency for Persons with Disabilities,” said Lopez-Cantera. “There is no reason why, when the state of Florida has a billion dollar surplus that we should not put forward the resources necessary to take care of those who we need to take care of.”

And, Rep. Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart) says lawmakers are already trying to do some good, including legislation that just passed the House Children, Families, and Seniors Subcommittee—a panel she chairs.

“I’m so pleased to say that just yesterday, our committee passed out three bills that are going to enable people with disabilities to have special accounts and it’s called the ABLE Act,” said Harrell to cheers and applause. “And, we’re going to move this across, making sure there are additional resources for individuals with disabilities.”

Issues surrounding developmental disabilities are expected to get a boost this year since the issue is personal to Senate President Andy Gardiner and his family. He has a child with Down Syndrome.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.