Recognizing those with developmental disabilities

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Guest commentary

Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet have declared March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month in our state.

As director of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, I hear daily about the wonderful accomplishments made by the people APD serves.

Those born with developmental disabilities are vital members of our community and have much to contribute if given the opportunity.

During this month, APD and its partners hope to share information about the great things being done by people with developmental disabilities, like Donald Duscher of Ocala.

Duscher drives his Ford pickup truck to Lowe’s home improvement store each day and has been working there for seven years. He assists customers with taking their purchases to their vehicles. Those purchases may be large pieces of lumber or dozens of plants. He operates a forklift to get needed items. Duscher tries hard to provide excellent service, with many customers being repeat visitors.

“I get to see people, including my friends, at work. I like the customers. They are good to me at Lowe’s.”

Duscher’s boss, Matt McKelvy, says, “Don is very dependable. He does his job to a tee. He doesn’t call in sick. If he is scheduled, he will be here. Don is customer service-oriented. He has a lot of contact with customers, but I don’t get any complaints about him.”

Gov. Scott is a great advocate for our program that serves people with developmental disabilities and he has included two wonderful proposals in his Florida Families First budget that will benefit the people that are waiting for community services from APD.

Gov. Scott is proposing $2.5 million for employment programs for people on the APD Medicaid waiver waiting list. The money would pay for job coaches and on-the-job training. The money will be blended with efforts from Vocational Rehabilitation, the Department of Economic Opportunity, and other agencies that are involved with employment. The efforts will be compounded to serve over 1,000 individuals in life changing ways — sustainable employment.

Additionally, Gov. Scott is recommending $36 million to enroll individuals from the waiting list onto the waiver. Currently, there are 22,000 people on the waiting list. People with the most critical needs will receive the funding and we expect to begin providing community services to more than 750 individuals. After eight long years with no funding for the waiting list, families now have hope.

APD and our stakeholders are asking legislators to support Gov. Scott’s Florida Families First budget proposal with the money earmarked for Floridians with developmental disabilities. The agency wants to help all people with developmental disabilities in our state and during this special month of March we want to spread the word and ask for the public’s support.

We are hopeful this waiting list funding will be approved to benefit people with disabilities so their dreams may be fulfilled and they can go to work and be active in their local communities just like everyone else.

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