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Living Independently with a Disability

Photo taken in December 2019 during the social event “Somos” celebrating consumers, peers, allies, and community partners that took place at Ball and Chain in Miami.

The Independent Living Philosophy proposes that people with disabilities know their needs best and have the right to be in control of their lives. 

One of the most common misconceptions of this belief is the idea that independent living can only be achieved by some persons with disabilities and with help from able-bodied people. But truth is – anyone is capable.  

In the wake of the Hurricane Andrew devastation of 1993, the Center for Independent Living of South Florida was established to serve the unmet needs of those with disabilities in the community. One of 16 centers in Florida, all of our services are available for individuals of any age and any disability, including visible and non-visible disabilities, at no cost.  

Serving Miami-Dade County and beyond, our social programming and initiatives are designed to create a fully integrated community with core services including: Information and Referral, Peer Support, Advocacy, Transitions (into post-secondary education, community living, workforce, etc.), and Independent Living Skills. These services are critical as they increase the income-earning potential of persons with disabilities and reduce their reliance on social service programs and institutional care.  

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our services have evolved to address the needs of those we serve – and as a result, since March we have been offering all our services virtuallyin addition to hosting virtual events to keep our community engaged.  

For those seeking to strengthen their independent living skills or simply in need of peer support  we can help! It does not matter what your goal is, we can help to connect you with the best service for your needs and aspirations! In fact, over 50% of our team are people with disabilities and can share experiences and tips that can guide you in achieving your independent living goals. In 2018, Centers for Independent Living across Florida peer mentored 3,080 individuals 

For more information on the Center for Independent Living of South Florida, please visit 

Alison Dos Santos is the Community Engagement Coordinator at the Center for Independent Living of South Florida.

Partner Highlight: Easterseals Florida

If you’re an individual with a disability or who has a child with a disability, you should know about Easterseals Florida. While most people have heard of us, not everyone realizes that we are a nonprofit agency that provides services along the lifespan of those with disabilities, as well as programming across the state.

Our diverse client list includes individuals with physical, intellectual and developmental disabilities; the entire autism spectrum; senior citizens; veterans; people with memory impairment; even children who are not yet diagnosed. We offer such an extensive list of services that it would be impossible to list them all, but here’s an introduction to a few core programs:

Early childhood. At Easterseals, we know that “The First Five Counts.” We can help you assess whether your child is meeting milestones in key growth areas: relationships, exploring and learning, communication, playing, and moving. We can also give you tools to enrich your child’s growth in these areas before they enter kindergarten. Every year, more than a million children enter school with an undiagnosed developmental delay, and Easterseals wants to change that. Our Child Development Centers and our Early Steps programs can help.

From school age to adulthood. Easterseals Camp Challenge, located in the central Florida community of Sorrento, gives our campers the chance to experience 61 acres of barrier-free recreation. All activities are completely accessible, from the swimming pool to the petting farm — even rock wall climbing and zip lining.  With the help of adaptive equipment, Easterseals can help anyone at all ability levels explore the great outdoors and push past preconceived limits.

In addition to our camp, we also have Easterseals Academy, a private school providing specialized programming for people ages 11 to 22. With a strong focus on employability skills training and functional academics, students are immersed in our community for optimal learning and development.

Adults. Easterseals is all about helping clients succeed in the workforce! Sometimes, it starts with exploration of possible careers and some personal inventory-taking. As we regularly take clients into the community, they have the opportunity to develop skills through internships and on-the job training. Building resume writing skills and filling out online applications are leading to work. When clients start work, we go to the workplace to help ensure they know how to do their job and even help their co-workers work with them.

And it’s not just working, it’s living: Easterseals helps clients learn to navigate public transportation, grocery shopping, banking, even laundry. We learn how to dance and go to movies, the theater and museums. We want everyone to enjoy life at the highest level they’re able.

Seniors. We offer adult day health care services, serving seniors and all adults ages 18 and up with a disability or special need. Clients may have memory impairment, Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, stroke damage, traumatic brain injury, etc. A full day of multi-sensory activities are provided. Staff are trained facilitators in several arts and wellness programs, allowing our members to express themselves creatively through the arts and have a lot of fun! We are proud to also serve many veterans. Adult day health care allows families to stay united and can be a true alternative to nursing home placement. Families also get some much-needed respite.

Respite. Easterseals Military Respite programs provides respite to Air Force and Navy services members that have a child with a disability, at both MacDill Air Force base in Tampa and Patrick Air Force base in Cocoa Beach. This program allows service member families to take care of errands or other needs knowing their child with a disability is being cared for by trained Easterseals care providers.

More than one million people benefit from Easterseals services nationwide – and we’re proud to be doing our part. While we’ve been around for nearly 100 years, I can tell you my very favorite part of my job is imagining fresh ways to continue meeting the needs of our clients – and that’s why we are proud to be partnering with ABLE United in helping individuals with disabilities achieve a better life experience.

Suzanne Caporina is senior vice president of innovation and impact for Easterseals Florida.

Partner Highlight: Central Florida Disability Chamber of Commerce

If you have a disability or know someone with a disability, let me bring you a message of hope: businesses do want to hire you.

You can be an entrepreneur. I know that it’s not always easy. The fit has to be right; the learning curve can be steep; you may not know a potential employer that believes in you yet, and you might not even believe in yourself. But as president of the Central Florida Disability Chamber of Commerce, I witness progress on a daily basis.

Our agency began in 2010 as a sub-creation of the Center for Independent Living. Although we’re located in Orlando, we serve the entire state of Florida. The mission of the Central Florida Disability Chamber is to provide information and education on business creation and growth, specifically designed for the needs of individuals with disabilities. We’ve learned a lot since our founding, most of it from sheer trial and error. There was really no agency for us to use as our model; in fact, agencies outside of Florida are now calling us for advice on how to create a similar program, and we remain the nation’s only disability chamber of commerce.

Why did we start? First, we realized there were a lot of entrepreneurs who did not know the ins and outs of running a business: how to make meaningful connections with vendors and customers, how to write a business plan, etc. Separately, we heard from employers who wanted to hire workers from the disability community. In fact, 60 percent of our members don’t have a disability themselves but want to hire from that talent pool.

The Disability Chamber of Commerce differs from other traditional chambers in that we have fewer after-hours events. We focus on offering training programs and brass-tacks networking. We spend a lot of time making phone calls and email introductions. From a training standpoint, we connect members with business mentors who can guide them through understanding financial issues. For example, when we bring in Regions Bank, they help train our members about how loans work and help them connect with banks for their first business loan.

Our members have a range of disabilities and career paths. Many have post-traumatic stress disorder from military service; one such gentleman created his own line of pens but didn’t know how to market them. We connected him with hotels and hospitals that can use his services. Assistance for this member was delivered through our Veterans Business Initiative program. Other members were born with or acquired disabilities, such as one member who is 70 percent blind and owns a cookie company. Another member uses a wheelchair and has his own company to dig and create swimming pools.

What advice would I share with future entrepreneurs? Know your business. If you’re going into the food industry, find a job being a server — even if you ultimately just want to cook. You’ll learn essential lessons about customer service. I’d also acknowledge the importance of family support. A wife or a parent can offer key mental support to reassure you that even when you run into stumbling blocks, you can follow your dream all the way.

So now, I have a business proposition for you. We at the chamber will continue to offer training, connections, and outreach, and we’ll keep pushing small businesses to step up and do more. And as for you, continue to stretch, whether it’s hiring another individual with a disability or considering an entrepreneurial endeavor. Together, we’ll make progress not just for the disability community but for all of Florida’s economy.

Rogue Gallart is president of the Central Florida Disability Chamber of Commerce, located in the National Entrepreneur Center in Orlando.

Partner Highlight: FAAST

Are you a Floridian with a disability or do you care for one? If you haven’t heard of FAAST, it’s time we get acquainted, because here at the Florida Alliance for Assistance Services and Technology we are here to help … in fact, “here2help” is our motto!

FAAST is a state agency that helps its clients acquire assistive technology (AT), which refers to any piece of equipment, software, or product system that aids the function of individuals with disabilities.

It includes:

  • gear to help you move, such as wheelchairs, scooters and adaptive vehicles
  • equipment to help you communicate, such as software-enabled iPads and adaptive keyboards
  • tools to help you live comfortably and safely in your home, such as guardrails, lifts and ramps

The list goes on and on!

We help our clients in four main ways. We provide information about products, services, and funding. We demonstrate those products for you until we find a good fit and may even be able to temporarily lend them to you. We train you in your AT and offer classes and workshops. And finally, we can offer monetary loans to cover AT needs that aren’t funded through insurance or Medicaid. Our interest rates are usually much lower than what a bank would charge, and we can offer more flexible terms.

Although we’re always only a phone call away, our services are consolidated at six regional
demonstration centers, located in Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando, Pensacola, Tallahassee, and Tampa. Most of the AT is provided by a vendor or manufacturer, but you can come to any of these regional centers to explore which AT is right for you. We’ll help you make the best choice, refer you to a suppli-er, and help navigate your insurance and other funding sources.

Thinking toward the future, we at FAAST look forward to boosting our reuse centers. What happens when someone no longer needs a hospital bed, for example? Donate it to us! We accept almost any AT that has a fair market value of over $100. We’ll repurpose and clean it for someone who needs it – a great way to pay it forward.

Give us a call if you think we might be able to help you; our number is 1-844-FL-FAAST (353-2278). Even if you need assistance in an area other than AT, we pledge to help connect you with someone who can assist you. We really are “here2help”!

Michael Daniels is executive director of the Florida Alliance for Assistance Services and Technology.