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  • Christinne Rudd

After 20 Years, Family Café Continues to Deliver

The 20th Annual Family Café, now a memory to the 10,000 plus who attended, did not disappoint.

The conference was June 15-17 at the Orlando Hyatt Regency. From the keynote presentation by Steve Browne, author of "How to Raise a Rocket Scientist for Fun and Profit," to the annual Saturday night dance, there was truly something for everyone to enjoy, including self-advocates.

A real highlight of the weekend was the Florida Alliance for Assistive Services and Technology (FAAST) pavilion. It gave participants a sampling of what is available at their Regional Demonstration Centers, or RDCs, around the state.

During the annual Friday evening Governor’s Summit, Family Café President Lori Fahey was given an award for her service of orchestrating a place where people with disabilities and their families could come and utilize the weekend for information, education, and friendship. This was lead off by a video message from former Governor Jeb Bush who was in office during the early years of Family Café.

Browne spoke about his daughter who has cerebral palsy and is now employed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). He spoke about his daughter’s various accomplishments despite the limitations and obstacles she has faced throughout her life. Browne’s speech not only provided a different perspective on living with a disability but also a sense of hope and determination as demonstrated by the feedback I received from attendees I spoke with after the keynote. It was certainly a great way to kickoff what was an informative and memorable weekend.

For the fitness buff, there were adaptive Zumba classes in the mornings. It was great to hear the music everyday and see participants moving and grooving to the beats. There was also adaptive Yoga, and for the most adventurous attendees, a demonstration with a gator wrangler and some of the resident wildlife from Gatorland in Orlando. Attendees had the opportunity to experience a lecture on adaptive scuba diving that built on principles demonstrated at last year’s event.

The Florida Self-Advocates Network’D (FL SAND) board meeting was held Saturday. A new group, the Clay County Change Makers, was accepted into the network on a probationary basis and expansion of FL SAND and its efforts to have a sustainable, lasting, and influential reach throughout the state were discussed. The board announced that the 2019 FL SAND Annual Conference would be at the Florida Hotel and Conference Center in Orlando once again, due to the many positive attributes this location offers to participants and vendors alike. The conference will be January 25-27.

The FAAST AT (assistive technology) Pavilion provided great demonstrations and had informative breakout sessions. Family Cafe's superhero theme was in full effect at the pavilion, which was fully equipped with a popcorn machine and superhero-themed shows continually playing on the projector. There was also a section where attendees could view an array of adaptive toys that are available at the state’s RDCs and an area where information and assistance were provided to conference attendees.

As always, there was an array of wonderful presentations to choose from at this year’s event. Two presentations that stood out were “What is Assistive Technology?-AT is AT!” and “Maximizing Advocacy and Positive Outcomes with Healthcare Providers.” Assistive technology is any piece of equipment or technology that allows the user to become more independent. Examples include a communication device or motorized wheelchair. These devices help us advocate for our needs as well as share our opinions about different issues within our communities. This was a great presentation to have available to participants for two reasons. First, a lot of people seem to be unclear of what exactly assistive technology is and, secondly, they aren’t fully aware of how it can change their lives and open doors they didn’t know were available to them. Advocating for our healthcare needs as a person with a disability not only allows us to stay healthy so we can participate in advocacy efforts, but gives us the self-esteem to know we can accomplish things and reach goals we set for ourselves. It also helps raise awareness among healthcare professionals about the needs of people with disabilities and how to communicate with them.

I was excited and inspired to have the opportunity, purely by chance, to speak with attendees who have continually attended the conference on a regular basis for more than 10 years. While chatting, they told me how much the information the weekend provided them not only armed them with useful information for their circumstances, but also made them better self-advocates in general. Because they attended the conference for many years they stated that, in their opinions, the 20th year of the conference made them even more excited to see what would be in store for participants for years to come. I wholeheartedly concur, and can’t wait to see what the Annual Family Café has to offer its attendees in years to come. Thank you to the Family Café for their many years of service to Floridians with disabilities and their families. Hope to see you there next year.

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