Guest Blogger: Kristin J. Korinko, PhD, BCBA, LMHC, NCC
District II- Psychologist/Behavior Analyst
Sunrise Community, Inc.
United Cerebral Palsy of Tallahassee, Inc.
On Thursday, February 18th, I had the privilege of making my annual pilgrimage up to the Capitol to celebrate Developmental Disabilities Day 2016 in support of enhancing the quantity and quality of services for my consumers. Suffice to say that “TEAM TALLY” made a very strong showing yesterday. We began with the extensive meet-and-greets in both the House and Senate offices including Senator President Andy Gardiner, Senator Tom Lee, Senator Anitere Flores, Senator Rene Garcia, Senator Joe Negron, and House Representatives Michelle Rehwinkel-Vasilinda, Representative Evan Jenne, and Representative Alan Williams. All of these legislators and their staff members welcomed Sunrise’s self-advocates and staff members with both open arms and minds. They were willing to listen and pay attention to our needs. After the first set of meet-and-greet rounds with our legislators was complete, we headed outside for the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council’s Award Ceremony. The FDDC recognized Damian Gregory as the recipient of the Idelio Valdes Leadership and Self-Advocacy Award. Mr. Gregory is the Director of Outreach and Family Engagement with CCDH in Miami, Florida. Speakers at the educational awareness luncheon addresses the funding crisis, Florida’s Wait List and the need for more competitive employment opportunities for people with disabilities in Florida. As the award recipient spoke, I was able to sit with two self-advocates from UCP of Tallahassee who were inspired by Mr. Gregory’s work and accomplishments as a person with mobility challenges. As the self-advocates cheered and applauded in support of Mr. Gregory, I was reminded of the tremendous impact community inclusion, assistive technology and quality support services have on the lives of people with disabilities.
After the awareness raising luncheon ended, #TeamTally (including self-advocates, Tallahassee staff and I) made its way to the Capitol for a second round of meet-and-greets. Many self-advocates from Sunrise’s Mahan homes readily shared their personal stories. This allowed Florida’s legislators to put a face with the needs of the greater disabilities community. One resident in particular really enjoyed and valued the time spent with several key legislators. He told me that “I’m glad I got to meet him (Rep. Williams)… it was nice to see who cares.”
The best part of the day for me was the opportunity to be interviewed by the media. The media was covering the “A Day In My Shoes” campaign which is aimed at educating law makers about the daily lives and challenges that people with disabilities face in the community. These interviews included statements of families, caretakers, providers, and stakeholders of services through the Agency for Persons with Disabilities. I was honored because the interview gave my doctoral dissertation findings a “voice” where they could potentially make a significant impact in the lives of Floridians with disabilities. Most importantly, I was able to communicate the main finding of my data which demonstrated how the current level of support in meeting Exceptional Medical and Exceptional Behavioral needs was inadequate in preventing Re-Institutionalization for those who have transition out and relocated in local communities across the state. In my opinion, the data resonated with each legislator with whom I met. Before leaving, I also offered to speak before the House, Senate or any Sub-Committee that might be able to use my outcome data to make the best decisions for Floridians.
In addition to my experience, Mahan’s own BJ Reis El-Bara also contributed. BJ shared his opinions, personal story and details of his current living arrangements with legislators. In addition, BJ spoke directly to the issue of medical funding with a personal impact statement on how his medical needs are met each day. Needless to say, he values his rhythm of life—for example, he appreciates the freedom to watch Miami Dolphin football games as late as he (and his roommate) so choose.
It was a rewarding and exhausting day at the same time. But I am honor to have had the opportunity to educate lawmakers on the crux of the funding crisis for three critical services – Personal Supports, Adult Day Training, and Residential Habilitation. I firmly believe that in order to provide quality services and to prevent potential “Re-institutionalization,” Medical and Behavioral must be adequately addressed to allow people to continue to living valued lives in our communities.