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Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day

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By Gina Jordan

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Tallahassee, FL – Advocates for the disabled filled the second floor of the Capitol Tuesday with exhibits, artwork and information about their legislative platform. Gina Jordan tells us their goal is to be able to participate in all aspects of life.

The annual event focuses attention on the challenges and opportunities facing those with chronic conditions due to mental or physical impairments. At a news conference, Dr. Susan Gold, Chair of the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council, said they empathize with the daunting decisions before lawmakers in a tight budget year, but some things can't be shortchanged.

"The choices made in the coming months may determine whether individuals with developmental disabilities receive essential services needed to sustain the quality of their lives and whether they can continue to live independently as contributing members of our society rather than be isolated and discarded."

The council is asking for legislation and policy changes to ensure that everyone has access to critical services and the chance to live productive lives. House Minority Leader Franklin Sands read a proclamation from Governor Charlie Crist declaring March 16th as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day.

"This is your Capitol. Meet with all the legislators, educate them. Let them know that things that they take for granted on a daily basis are not so easy for some of us and that we need them to recognize that fact as we face a very, very difficult budget situation."

The first Idelio Valdes Leadership and Advocacy Award was presented in honor of a council member who had a congenital heart defect and a nervous system disorder. Valdes passed away last November at age 43, a much longer life than doctors had predicted. He was a public speaker and advocate like his friend Frank Shalett, who won the award.

"I've known Idelio for a long time. He was inspiring. He accomplished so much and there was so much more he wanted to do. I wish I could do the things he did. I hope I will, and I hope others will be inspired by his memory like I am. I will miss him."

Shalett is board president of an advocacy awareness group called People First of South Florida. He has worked for more than a decade as a cashier at Publix, and he bowls in the Special Olympics. He's asking lawmakers for the funding to help people with disabilities live fulfilling lives.

"They must remove the barriers to our being part of society. That was Idelio's message, but though Idelio's voice is now silent, his memory will continue to serve as a reminder and inspiration that we must now be the voice they hear."

Council Chair Susan Gold says one way to help acquire critical services for the disabled is by filling out and returning the census form, which is showing up in mailboxes this month.

"Census data can directly affect the quality of life for people with disabilities and their families through improvements in healthcare, education, and community-based and social service programs. We want to make sure that all Floridians are counted, and especially those with disabilities."

Gold called on the Legislature to recognize the benefits to all people of including those with disabilities in schools, businesses and communities.