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  • Christinne Rudd and Jason Hahr

Florida Self-Advocates Meet with Administration on Disabilities Commissioner Julie Hocker

Group of Florida self-advocates posting with Administration on Disabilities Commissioner Julie Hocker

A group of Florida self-advocates met with federal Administration on Disabilities commissioner Julie Hocker last week to discuss hot-button concerns for persons with disabilities in Florida.

Hocker met with members of Florida Self-Advocates Network’D (FL SAND) and others February 25 while visiting the Sunshine State for the Statewide Independent Living Councils (SILC) conference in Orlando. The Administration on Disabilities, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, was created to work with states, communities, and partners in the disability community to increase the independence, productivity, and community integration of individuals with disabilities.

Brenda Clark, project director and employment services coordinator with the Florida Center for Inclusive Communities at the University of South Florida, coordinated the meeting, assisted by Christinne Rudd, FL SAND and Florida Self-Advocacy Central coordinator. The roundtable discussion focused on three issues relevant to the disability community in Florida and nationwide: community living and integration, employment, and raising expectations about people with disabilities.

FL SAND members were able to share their concerns about problems with transportation and provider rates, the two issues that comprise their 2019 legislative priorities chosen by FL SAND members at their annual conference in January. The many barriers to transportation, such as on-time performance of paratransit services and driver sensitivity trainings, were discussed. The group also shared concerns about the grave crisis Florida faces being at the very bottom among the 50 states in hourly pay for direct care workers.

Disability employment was also addressed at the roundtable. FL SAND President Amanda Baker brought up several important issues, the primary one being income restrictions placed on workers with disabilities who need to stay on Medicaid. People who desperately want to work and are able to earn higher salaries must limit their earnings in order to keep the services they need to live independently because private insurance does not cover personal care services. Hocker pointed out that many states have addressed this problem via successful Medicaid buy-in programs and encouraged the advocates to continue looking to the success of those states. FL SAND and other agencies have been advocating to bring Medicaid buy-in or a similar program to Florida and are hoping to make headway this upcoming legislative session.

The roundtable concluded with a discussion of ways to help raise the expectations of people with disabilities as well as the general public about the potential for success of people with disabilities. Participants brainstormed ways societal perceptions of people with disabilities could be improved so opportunities might become more readily available for them in all aspects of community life. An idea offered as a potential solution was making disability sensitivity trainings available to people in different areas of the community to help them gain a better understanding of appropriate ways to interact with people with disabilities. This was perhaps the most intriguing part of the roundtable.

Throughout the talk, Hocker shared information about the work of the President’s Committee on People with Intellectual Disabilities. She said the committee was currently discussing various questions and issues, including how to ensure we are setting up people with intellectual and developmental disabilities for success and how to educate employers on the value of hiring people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She also shared the work of two new federal programs: No Wrong Door and the National Center on Advancing Person-Centered Practices and Systems (NCAPPS). No Wrong Door attempts to help states streamline access to information and assistance related to long-term care services for all who need them, including people with disabilities. The goal of NCAPPS is to promote systems change that makes person-centered principles not just an aspiration, but a reality in the lives of people who require services and supports across the lifespan.

It was a great privilege spending the afternoon with Commissioner Hocker. Self-advocates participated in an honest, eye-opening conversation surrounding issues having a direct impact on them within their communities. It’s our hope that we as self-advocates have made an inroad to positively impacting the greater fabric of the future for people with disabilities on countless levels.

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