State Leaders Must Act to Ensure Equal Opportunities for People with Developmental Disabilities

State Leaders Must Act to Ensure Equal Opportunities for People with Developmental Disabilities  by Dennis Haas, President/CEO, ARC Broward  As Florida develops the state budget for 2014-15 to meet the basic needs of its citizens, we must protect the quality of life for our most vulnerable populations, including those with developmental disabilities.  When given access to adequate services and support, Floridians with developmental disabilities can – and do – become self-sufficient citizens that are willing and able to attend school, work and play in the community, pay taxes and vote.  The best decisions will be those that encourage sustainability and lead to future cost savings for all citizens. ARC Broward believes that supporting the continuum of life for persons with developmental disabilities, including those on the waiting list for services, is an integral part of this solution. We must also be mindful of the importance of the years of experience and expertise that advocates and service providers have developed over the past 50-60 years since the closing of New York’s Willowbrook and other horrific institutions around the country. These issues will take center stage throughout the month of March which is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month in Florida. Advocates around the area have been raising their voices to show their support for the funding of services and programs that ensure an acceptable quality of life for our citizens with developmental disabilities. It is vitally important that our lawmakers hear their voices and understand the need to provide funding for fundamental services for them.  Some of those choices are more difficult than others. Some may determine whether our most vulnerable citizens receive essential services needed to sustain the quality of their lives and determine whether they can continue to live independently as contributing members of our society, rather than be isolated or discarded.  It is vitally important that all of our citizens join in urging our legislators to be bold, courageous and do the right thing by finding the funds to provide essential services to people with developmental disabilities and their families. We support budget recommendations that provide additional funding for people on the Agency for Persons with Disabilities waiver waiting list. This recommendation allows individuals with the most critical needs, some of whom have been waiting for years, to begin receiving critically needed services.  The most critical needs in South Florida include:  adequate funding for services for adults with developmental disabilities over the age of 22 including meaningful day activity, residential supports, transportation and job readiness/employment services. One voice can be heard when combined with many others. One face commands attention when joined by many others. And one bold, brave, creative effort by those we’ve elected to represent us can give strength to those among us who are most in need and most vulnerable.  ###  Dennis Haas, Esq. is the President/CEO of ARC Broward, a 60 year old nationally-accredited not for profit organization providing 22 services including the School of HIRE Education, and three mission based enterprises (Culinary Institute, Electronics Recycling Services and Learning Institute) for children and adults with developmental disabilities, and those with other various life challenges throughout Broward County, Florida and surrounding areas.