Gov. Rick Scott recently reappointed Bishop Grady Villas (BGV) executive director, Kevin Johnson, to another 4-year term on the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council. Johnson is one of 25 members comprised of parents, self advocates, professionals and agencies working to improve and promote meaningful participation in the life of Floridians with developmental disabilities. BGV is recognized at the state and national level for its residential model and work.
“It’s a great chance to be at the table and work with state agency heads and all these various people who care deeply about people with developmental disabilities in Florida,” Johnson said. “I really feel blessed to be able to represent, not just people and families at Bishop Grady Villas, but the greater community of Floridians with developmental disabilities.”
Johnson says the council allows him the opportunity to take what he has learned as a provider and “spread best practices and advocate for individuals”. He explained he brings a “unique perspective” in that BGV is a community-based program, different than the typical residential program model in Florida.
In the past four years, Johnson has worked on numerous issues. He is most proud of the strides made in gainful employment for people with disabilities, especially through Project SEARCH and the Employment First Initiative. Project SEARCH is a transition age youth model that Bishop Grady Villas has expanded in Osceola and Seminole Counties, beyond the residential community. Others have implemented the model throughout the state. The partnership is between a school district, a state vocational rehabilitation program and a large employer who can provide three rotations for students with disabilities in their senior year of high school. The provider (BGV) then helps place the individual according to their newly acquired skills and personal aptitude.
Employment First is a collaborative agreement between “a majority of the state bodies that have an impact on employment for people with disabilities. It was a major achievement,” he said. Signed by Gov. Scott, these agencies now prioritize employment as an option for these individuals.
“Bishop Grady Villas is much bigger than our residents,” shared Johnson. “We’re serving 48 residents and 120 additional people in Central Florida who might live with their parents or in their own apartment. Those are the people who have been predominantly served by Project SEARCH.”
“The council has also highlighted the crisis in the provider community for qualified and well-compensated direct support professionals,” he added. Florida ranks among the lowest in the nation in funding services for people with disabilities. “Almost 22,000 people are on a wait list for services, which likely exceeds 7-10 years,” he said. The council is seeking a “base-level” of support. “Investment in the infrastructure to promote less dependence (on the part of the individuals with disabilities),” is something the council is working toward, he affirmed. It shifts the burden of providing jobs from the state to private industry, ultimately promoting individual independence.
Acknowledging the diversity of the council members, Johnson explained, “That mix ensures the council is representing the interests of people with disabilities… Some people with intellectual disabilities can really share what it’s like to be part of the system. They’re depending on services to give them access to the community and be as safe and independent as possible. For others, parents may be the only voice. They offer personal experience. So many of these families have had to fight to give their child opportunity and access… It gives me perspective and helps me understand the business end of providing services. It calibrates what is most important for people most impacted by the work of the council.”
A parishioner at Corpus Christi Parish in Celebration, Johnson prayerfully said, “Church history is rich in supporting the rights of the worker – from the standpoint of human dignity. All people should have the opportunity to be productive and earn wages. The council reflects that social justice concept. Beyond that, the council reflects the beautiful gifts that each one of us has. We’re trying to be proponents of giving those individuals opportunities to share those gifts with their community and be fully included as members of society, rather than just being someone who is taken care of. The whole purpose of the council is to promote community inclusion as opposed to traditional institutionalization. It really embraces a true understanding of the uniqueness and value of each human life.”
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic – December 6, 2018