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Cheers to 20 years!


2022 Monthly Newsletter

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A note from Debbie....

Happy March! I can't believe how fast this year is moving. I feel like we just sent out the year-end newsletter to everyone and now we are in the middle of March. Well, we have been very busy at DIG. You will read below about a series of three trainings that DIG is working on for the Enable Project. In these trainings, we are going beyond the basics of giving out information and really looking at what it means to live as a person with a disability within the community. Also, you will read about a new inclusion interpreter fund that will be administered by the CIL in Broward. This fund will allow people to get ASL interpreters for family events, job interviews, and other activities that don't usually have funding for interpreters. Finally, you will read a very personal essay by Justine. I hope you enjoy reading this newsletter as much as I enjoyed putting it together.

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Work Hard Dream Big

20 years of Impact

Each month we will highlight one of the topics

This month we will discuss voting

click the button below to read more


We will add another section next month.

Over the last twenty years, we have focused on many important elements of community living for persons with disabilities.

Over the next year, I will reflect on each one of these issues and the progress that we have made in the past twenty years.

  • Voting – Ensuring accessible voting as well as outreach into the disability community.

  • Housing – Ensuring accessible multi-family housing and ensuring that accommodations are provided to ensure that persons with disabilities could use and enjoy their homes like anyone else.

  • Safety – Providing communication tools and training to prevent harm to persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities when encountering first responders.

  • Effective Communication – Defining effective and equal communication access for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and ensuring that medical needs are met, and employment opportunities are maintained.

  • Freedom of Choice – Providing the ability to have the right to control one’s future is an issue in which all persons have a right, and is often denied to persons with disabilities. This includes protecting the rights of parents with disabilities to have and raise children throughout the dependency process, in addition to ensuring freedom from guardianship services whenever possible.

  • Institutionalization and Medical services – Forced the closure of nursing homes that serve medically fragile children by ensuring provision of adequate services in homes.

  • Animals for Persons with Disabilities – The choice of what to do to assist a person with a disability is that person’s choice, and animals have been used to assist persons with disabilities for years, and it is only growing.

  • Education access – All persons are entitled to an equal access to an education. This includes a program to ensure an adequate education, or appropriate accommodations that measure each person’s intelligence, instead of disability. 

  • Expanding Disability Inclusion in the Legal Profession – Ensuring that, as a profession, the doors to the courthouse are open to all persons with disabilities, and that persons with disability who want to be lawyers are given a fair opportunity to do so.

  • Public Accommodations – People with disabilities have the right to physical access and freedom from unduly restrictive qualification rules so everyone has the right to equal use and enjoyment of all places of public accommodation. 

Reclaiming my Deaf Lineage

By: Matthew Dietz

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I did not meet my grandfather’s brother, Isidore Dietz, until we sat Shiva at my grandparent’s house in 1983. He was the splitting image of my grandfather, and I was shocked and inconsolable when we met. He was Deaf and he signed, and his wife, Celia, signed back and was able to hear and speak with me. That was the only time that I saw him or even spoke about him, until I read Jennifer Natalya Fink’s essay in the New York Times, We Should Claim Our Disabled Ancestors With Pride.

Given that roughly one in four adults have a disability of some kind, all our families include disabled ancestors. Disability is part of every family story. But we have to know of our disabled kin to claim them.

It is important to recognize and understand our ancestors and the struggles that they may have had as being part of a minority population that has been stigmatized and hidden in the shadows of family trees. By reclaiming and retelling our family stories and including, and being proud, of what they had to go through, whether they were queer, disabled or otherwise marginalized, like putting a stone on their headstone, it honors their lives and blesses their memory.

So back to Isidore. I typed in his name in Google Books and I found the 1921 and 1922 reports from the New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb. It was located in Washington Heights in New York City, where the campus of the Columbia University Medical School is now located.  

The institution was co-educational, and for the boys - the first military school for the Deaf. However, these boys would never be allowed in the military, as people who were deaf could not be in the military since the Civil War. In 1881, the Institution was proud to switch to a fully oral instruction for the students. Some of their staff went to the Second International Congress on the Education of the Deaf in Milan. After this conference, the New York Institution wanted to be declaration was made that oral education was better than manual (sign) education. As a result, sign language in schools for the Deaf was banned.

I could not imagine how life was in that institution for a teenager. Was corporal punishment inflicted on Isidore when he attempted to sign and communicate with his fellow students?  Did he resent his brothers who were able to be home with his parents and play with his friends when he was required to go through a regimented life in an institution? Could he communicate with his family? Was he an adult when he learned ASL? Did he dread going to a family event where his family did not know him at his brother’s Shiva, and did any extended family members attend his shiva in Florida?

For the past twenty years litigating cases regarding effective communication and inclusion for the Deaf Community, I never realized that I had a deeper, personal connection to the work that I do, and embarrassed at how Isadore was treated. I wonder if any of my clients knew him and made the connection.

Inclusion Interpreter Fund

By: Matthew Dietz


One of the collateral benefits of a suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act is to build awareness of the needs of Persons with Disabilities. Unfortunately, most settlements are confidential, so this benefit is limited, and the only entity improving their polices or accessibility are the defendant in the case. However, that was not the case with Rose Adams and her settlement with Cleveland Clinic Florida to provide sign language interpreters to Deaf patients.  When Cleveland Clinic Florida failed to comply with their requirements of the settlement agreement to train their staff to provide effective communication and interpreters, United District Court Judge Rodolfo Ruiz II had enough and held Cleveland Clinic Florida in contempt of Court. After holding them in contempt and fining them $1,000.00 per day, it took only sixteen days to train its staff and comply with the settlement. 

On March 14, 2022, pursuant to my request, Judge Ruiz ordered that the $16,000 be paid to the Center of Independent Living of Broward to administer a fund to pay for sign language interpreters.  The primary purpose of this fund is to pay for interpreters when there are no legal obligations to do so, or for a first job interview. 

Pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act, all governmental entities, private businesses, and most employers (with 15 or more employees) are legally required to provide sign language interpreters for the Deaf if the communication is long, complex, or important. However, there is no legal requirement to provide an interpreter for most social events that are an essential part of community life. This fund will be used to recompensate interpreters who provide services for these events, which include weddings, funerals, birthday parties, and similar activities. This fund will be available for a hearing family who would like to invite a Deaf child to a birthday party, or a Deaf family that will have both hearing and Deaf people at a funeral.

In addition, the fund can also be used to pay for Deaf job seekers for a first job interview. Many times when a Deaf person applies for a job, and then asks for an interpreter for an interview, the application goes to the bottom of the pile of applicants. There is no requirement to hire the Deaf person, and as long as the employer hires a person who is qualified to do the job, there is no penalty for the employer. When a Deaf person can bring their own interpreter to a first interview, it takes away any thoughts of burdens from the employer and discover if the Deaf person would be a good fit for a job.

For years, I have seen my interpreter friends, like Brian Gauci, post volunteer interpreting assignments on Facebook, and many sign language interpreters spend hundreds of hours doing pro-bono work to interpret for the Deaf community. Other times, interpreters or family members are hijacked from events to help with communication, when these folks shouldn’t be required to work at an event in which he or she is a guest.  

The interpreter fund should provide for over 270 hours of interpreting time. The funds are available for interpreters who do this work. So, if you are hearing and want to invite a Deaf person to a family event, ask the Deaf person what interpreter they prefer, and call and ask the interpreter to interpret for the event. For my Deaf friends, if you have a first job interview, or would like to go to a family event, tell your interpreters about this fund.

The Enable Project

Join us for three trainings.

The first will be on Monday, March 21 the topic is hosing and how to live integrated in the community.

The second will be on Monday, April 11 the topic is Disability and Abuse: how gun violence and animal abuse connects to domestic violence.

The third will be on Monday, May 23 the topic is Effective Communication and how to reduce barriers by using technology.

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The View From Here

By: Justine Chichester

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Maybe you’re not healing because you’re trying to be who you were before the trauma. That person doesn’t exist anymore. There is a new you trying to be born. Breathe life into that person.” – Anonymous


I knew that sitting down to write about the past few months, and ultimately the past several years, was going to be difficult. Admittedly, scary. The end of 2021 and beginning of 2022 were some of the most difficult months I’ve had to endure. We suffered loss in our family, my mother-in-law’s passing on Christmas Eve and the sudden, extreme sickness and death of my beloved dog, Bailey, which really hit me hard. All of this bringing in a tremendous amount of grief that I had never experienced before. Even after all I have gone through over the past years since my injury, this has turned out to be the toughest time for me. I think it’s important to discuss, as these are often the things that we tend to keep quiet. Usually suffering all on our own. These are the tough times in our lives that we don’t post about on social media or talk about at dinner parties. The times when grief becomes so overwhelming you cry every day; you can’t get out of bed or even talk on the phone. That was my life over the past several months.


I knew it would be difficult to write about this time, because while grieving the loss of our loved ones over the past couple of months, I made a discovery. I was suddenly triggered with the realization that I never truly grieved the loss of my former self before my injury. The sadness just reminded me who I used to be and, more importantly, who I no longer was because of my disability. In those first several years after my injury, I was so busy learning to walk again, proving to the world that I could do it, and always staying positive along the way, I was always the people pleaser. During this time of great loss, I realized that I never gave myself the time to truly grieve the loss of who I used to be. I had indeed changed, and it has taken me all these years and now, suffering the loss of our loved ones to bring me to the realization that I am no longer the person I was before my injury. That rebuild after a personal storm is truly eye opening. No one talks about what it feels like picking up the pieces, or what it feels like to look in the mirror and not recognize yourself. So much shifts when you are just trying to survive. After all I’ve been through, I have changed physically, mentally and spiritually. The person I was before September 20, 2014 no longer exists and I grieve her loss. But in that loss, I believe someone kind of wonderful has emerged. Someone who is tougher, more present in the moment and lives in gratitude every day.


After a lot of soul searching and time, I’ve now learned that grief is in two parts. The first part is loss. The second is the remaking of life. Truly taking this time to grieve has taught me who I’ve become since suffering loss. I ran across this quote online around the end of last year when the loss seemed too great to bear. I saved it and I continue to go back to it as a reminder when that sadness creeps in once again and the grief becomes overwhelming:


“As you are shifting, you will begin to realize you are not the same person you used to be. The things you used to tolerate have now become intolerable. Where you once remained quiet, you are now speaking your truth. Where you once battled and argued you are now choosing to remain silent. You are beginning to understand the value of your voice and there are some situations that no longer deserve your time, energy and focus.” 

Miami Inclusion Alliance (MIA)

By: Sharon Langer

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I would like to share with you this month, some facts you may not know about the impact of domestic violence on persons with disabilities, in hopes of raising your awareness of the issue. I also will share what can be done to address the issue and make change.

First the facts:

  • People with disabilities have a higher lifetime prevalence of experiencing abuse than people without disabilities.
  • They experience violent crime at TWICE the rate of people without disabilities.
  • They are 3 times more likely to be sexually assaulted.
  • Police are less likely to respond to reported violence against victims with disabilities.
  • A recent survey (Spectrum Institute Disability and Abuse Project) found that 70% of respondents with disabilities experienced some form of abuse.
  • Women with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to all forms of abuse. They experience physical, sexual, psychological abuse and stalking. They also are more likely to experience intimate partner control of their sexual health and reproductive rights.
  • Men with disabilities are more likely to experience stalking and psychological abuse.

These statistics are alarming, yet we don’t hear society talking about the significant role abuse plays in the lives of so many with disabilities.

Compounding the problem are the many barriers to services that people experience in society.

Second What CAN and SHOULD be done?

  • One of the most effective ways to change this, is to make sure resources that support victims, are available to all victims. This means ensuring that all resources and services are fully accessible.
  • Staff in shelters and domestic violence/sexual assault agencies must be trained to assist victims with disabilities.
  • Local health care providers should screen patients with disabilities for domestic violence.
  • General social service agencies that service persons with disabilities, should be educated on domestic violence/sexual assault and how to recognize the signs and respond appropriately. This includes linking those agencies with the local domestic violence/sexual assault networks.
  • All organizations that provide information and resources on domestic violence/sexual assault, should make sure that information is accessible for all.

The above may seem a great challenge but the good news is that the Miami Inclusion Alliance, has been working on all the above for the last 5 years. We have made tremendous progress, in creating awareness of the issue, creating policies and procedures for accessibility, and beginning to create collaborations between those that serve victims and those that serve persons with disabilities. There is more to be done.

I will share more of our work in the coming months. 

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Please read about a great resource being coordinated by Radical Partners

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Accessibility & Inclusion Resources

Nonprofits and social ventures have the power to advance the equity of people living with disabilities. This initiative serves to connect Miami’s leaders with key accessibility and disability inclusion organizations to increase awareness and cultivate welcoming spaces within Miami’s social impact ecosystem. 

We continue to amplify these collaborations by partnering with local organizations that offer their services and by supporting nonprofits and social ventures in budgeting for these services to welcome individuals of all abilities into their programming.

Here’s what’s on the menu




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Benefits Information

By: Lesly Lopez

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Are you a SSDI beneficiary working or wanting to work over the Substantial Gainful Activity? Are you receiving support from your employer? You can use Subsidies for SGA purposes

A few things to consider first: During an SGA determination, SSA looks at gross wages when they were earned, not when they were paid to you. For example, if you get paid every week or every other week you will have some months when you get an extra paycheck. SSA won’t count that extra paycheck when it was received – they are only interested in when the work was done that you got paid for. In addition, they will deduct any wages you were paid for days you actually did not work such as sick leave pay or vacation pay. SSA considers many things in addition to the amount you received in gross wages such as:     

  • The value of your work compared to non-disabled coworkers and whether you got help doing your job from an agency or your employer (Subsidy/Special Conditions);
  • Whether or not you paid expenses related to your disability because you were working, (Impairment Related Work Expenses, Business expenses, unpaid help); and
  • How long you were able to earn more than the SGA level and whether you were unable to keep earning SGA level wages beyond 6 months due to your disability (Unsuccessful Work Attempt or UWA).


Using Subsidy and Special Conditions: SSA is only interested in earnings that represent the real value of the work you perform. SSA understands that support may be provided by your employer that may result in you receiving more pay than the actual value of the services you perform. They call this “subsidy”. In addition, SSA realizes that you may receive support provided by someone other than your employer - for example, a vocational rehabilitation agency. As a result of this support, you may be receiving more pay than the actual value of the services you perform. They call this type of support “special conditions”. SSA will reduce the amount of income they count by the value of the subsidy and/or the special conditions you receive when deciding if your earnings are SGA.

Subsidies exist when employers pay workers more in wages than the reasonable value of the actual services performed. To qualify, individuals must have evidence of receiving subsidies such as extra support, supervision, or documentation of lower productivity compared to unimpaired workers performing the same or similar work.

In developing subsidies, employers are requested by the SSA to submit statements documenting the actual value of workers' services. Subsidies may be either specific or non-specific. In specific subsidies, employers designate a specific dollar amount after calculating the reasonable value of workers' services. In non-specific subsidies, employers are unable to designate a specific dollar amount as the subsidy. The amount of subsidies is determined by comparing the work of individuals in terms of time, skills, and responsibilities with that of nondisabled individuals in similar work. The proportional value of the work must then be estimated according to the prevailing pay scale of this work. SSA makes this determination.

The following list of possible indicators of subsidies is not exhaustive and questions regarding a specific example should be directed to the local SSA office.

  • Sheltered employment;
  • Childhood disability involved;
  • Mental impairment involved;
  • Marked discrepancy between amount of pay and value of services;
  • Claimants or someone else alleges that claimants do not earn their pay;
  • Nature and severity of impairment indicates that employees receive help from others in doing the work; and/or
  • Government-sponsored job training or employment programs.
  • Friendship or relationship to employer;


 Other factors unrelated to the performance of the worker;

  • Does the employer consider the work to be worth substantially less than the amount paid? If so, what are the reasons for this view?
  • If the individual is still on the payroll despite unsatisfactory work, what is the employer's reasons for retaining them?
  • If the individual is no longer employed, what led to the termination of employment?


Some questions that might help to figure out if you are receiving support (subsidies) from your employer.

Employer-Provided Job Subsidies (check those that apply and provide cost to employer whenever possible)

 ____ Extra supervision ____ hours at ____ per hour for month(s) of ____ Allows extra time to perform duties (describe):

____ Allows lower productivity (describe):

____ Special accommodations (describe):

____ provides special transportation ___ miles per day or ____ hours per month at ____ per hour.

____ Adjusts work schedule (explain):

____ Adjusts duties (explain):

____ Wages paid above productivity (explain):

____ Other (describe):

Documented cost of employer provided subsidies ________________________

Special Arrangements/Accommodations: are these workers subject to the same duties, expectations, responsibilities, and potential for promotion as other workers doing similar jobs for this employer? _ yes _ no

Are there any special arrangements in place to maintain the client's worker in this job? ____ yes ____ no (If yes, explain) were these jobs "created" specifically for this employment situation or client? ____ yes ____ no

The information in this document is meant to help you understand this work incentive. Remember that the SSA and other agencies make decisions about your benefits. This document is meant to be a resource, not a decision about eligibility. 



SSA Red Book Social Security Online - The Red Book - A Guide to Work Incentives (ssa.gov)

Subsidies and Special Conditions: Social Security Online - Subsidy & Special Conditions (ssa.gov) Ticket to Work Helpline

For general questions about work incentives call the Ticket to Work Helpline at 1-886-833-2987 or TTY 1-866-833-2967 Monday- Friday 8:00AM-8:00PM

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The wallet card is a tool to be used by a teenager or an adult with a disability.

Currently, we have developed cards for persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or intellectual disabilities. 

We have finished our new caregiver card.

You can start ordering them online on our website.

Order a Wallet Card Here
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Access The Vote Florida (ATVFL) is a state chapter of AAPD’s REVUP Campaign. REV UP stands for: Register! Educate! Vote! Use your Power!

Join us for our April meeting on April 1, at 11am. We will be setting up our subcommittees for the year and getting ready to focus on the upcoming elections for 2022. Please email Olivia at oliviab@drflorida.org

The chapter is a statewide coalition of organizations and self- advocates that are working to raise awareness about issues that impact persons with disabilities, encourage people with disabilities to participate in the voting process, and educate elected officials on issues important to persons with disabilities.

The video below was created as a virtual presentation for the 2021 Family Cafe.

The video will explain who ATVFL is, what we have done so far, and what we plan to do in the future.

The presentation will encourage self-advocates to join and become involved.

ATVFL Website
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This event is on hold until it is safe to meeting in person again. However, if you are looking for something fun to do, you should check out My Squad. A new program sponsored by the City of Coral Gables. You can text (305) 978-1196 (text preferred) for more information.

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Your Upward Journey

In a nutshell, Your Upward Journey:

It is Easier Than You Think!, a three-part project (book, self-help seminars and merchandise sale).

Click Here for More Information

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