James Patrick Memorial Work Incentive Personal Assistant Services Program (JP-PAS) Accepting Applicants

Are you working or want to work and need a personal care assistant (PCA) to help you perform your activities of daily living?  If so, the James Patrick Memorial Work Incentive Personal Assistant Services Program (JP-PAS) will reimburse working persons with a disability for the care they need.  Your PCA could be a spouse, relative, private party or agency employee.  You decide who to hire and you direct your own care.  Applicants must meet certain eligibility requirements and submit documentation of their disability and their need for an attendant.  The program currently has a few open spots and you can be reimbursed up to $1,400/month to pay your PCA.  For more information or to find out whether you are a qualified candidate, visit www.floridacils.org or call toll-free 1-866-575-6004.

 

To find out how the program is making a difference in the lives of its participants, read a few of their personal stories on how the program has assisted them to become better people, citizens and workers.

 

My Boys and My Work Keep Me Going
Natalie Alden’s Story

 

“In general, if you are a person with a severe disability and people see you working, they are surprised. I think that many people think that there is not a lot we can do.”

 

Natalie Alden is 36 years old and has a long history of work, starting when she was in college, working at the computer lab. She realized then, that when she was working, people saw her for who she is and not just a “disabled person.”

 

“When I was 16 years old, my family and I were involved in an automobile accident in Bunnell, Florida. Though we all survived, my younger sister now lives with traumatic brain damage and I live with a spinal cord injury.”  With support from family, friends and her personal care attendant, who helped her with more than just her personal needs, Natalie attended high school and college.

 

“Sure, there were awkward times in high school, but I made friends and my PCA helped to bring me out of my shell.” After Natalie graduated from college, funding for her PCA was limited to just one day a week and out of necessity her boyfriend became her PCA. Vulnerable but unwilling to go home, she found herself in a dangerous situation. “It was awful… for two years he physically abused me. I was young and I just did not know where to turn for help.” Finally, she did get out and soon thereafter she met her future husband. “I got married in 1993, and in March of 1995, gave birth to my first son, Taylor. Later that year we moved to Craig, Colorado, where my second son, Trevor, was born.  While living in Craig, I was elected to and served on the City Council for three years, helped start a center for independent living, served on the board of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, and worked with Cerebral Palsy of Colorado as a benefit specialist.”

 

In 2002, the family moved to Florida and Natalie began working for the local center for independent living. A few years later she and her husband divorced.  For the past three years, she has worked for the Advocacy Center for Persons with Disabilities as an advocate investigator on the Self-Determination Team. “We provide individual and systems change advocacy throughout the state of Florida. I love my job because I meet people who have no one to help them and I teach them how to help themselves. I also serve on the Jacksonville Mayor’s Disability Council.”

 

When Natalie talks about her disability she is matter of fact, without self-pity, and considers herself fortunate. But that does not mean she does not worry about her future and the well-being of young people with disabilities who are trying to get started and make it on their own. “There are so many extra costs associated with having a disability. Medicine, supplies, and then there are the big costs for medical care and a PCA. People with disabilities are not looking for a hand-out; we just want to have what everybody else has and not have to worry about getting out of bed in the morning.  You know, people with disabilities can just stay home and be nothing and collect a check, or we can have a life, pay taxes and try not to be a burden on society. That is why the Jimmy Patrick PAS Program is so important to me. It helps me offset my monthly PCA expenses and gives me hope for the future.”

 

For Natalie that means working to support her children, being a role model to them and working to help others with disabilities. “My work and my kids are what keep me going.”

 

 

Changing Perceptions One Person at a Time
Aaron Bates’ Story

 

 “In my life I have discovered that society’s perception of my disability is sometimes a bigger obstacle than the disability itself. I have also learned that in order to succeed in my condition, I would have to push to persevere no matter what the obstacles, and it has proven a useful trait on many occasions.”

 

Aaron Bates was born and raised in Jacksonville; he has muscular dystrophy and has used his wheelchair since he was 5. “My life has been full of individuals telling me and my family what I could ‘not’ do. When it came to schooling, the officials fought their hardest to have me sent to schools for the disabled, despite the fact I tested as academically gifted. Through countless phone calls, public interviews, and letters by my parents, I was given the same opportunities as other children.”

 

After high school, Aaron attended Florida State University and graduated with two bachelor degrees and a law degree by the age of 23.  And then he got his dream job offer, the opportunity work at a state attorney’s office.  His happiness turned to despair when he realized that once he was working the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation would not cover his personal care attendant (PCA) costs and the starting salary that he was offered would not cover his PCA and his other living expenses. He turned the job down and moved back home to live with his parents.  Ironically, by not working he could qualify to receive a variety of social services and Medicaid benefits. 

 

“Independent living and gainful employment for people with disabilities are not popular ideals in the current system’s treatment of the disabled. I am a perfect example of this. My school and work record is superb. However, I am unable to live on my own without assistance with transferring, bathing, dressing, etc.“ 

 

Soft spoken, yet powerful, Aaron decided to make policymakers aware that as a working person, his contribution to society, his taxes and his spending would far exceed what the state would have to give him for a personal care attendant.

 

“After extensive pressure and advocacy, my story was heard. Representative Andy Gardiner sponsored and the Florida Legislature funded a pilot program called the Florida Work Incentive Personal Assistance Services Pilot Program to find out if there were others like me who could use a little funding support for a PCA.” His advocacy also got the attention of Mirabilis Ventures Orlando. The firm offered him a job as a staff attorney and agreed to provide the interim funds needed to pay for an attendant until legislation was passed.

 

In July of 2007, Aaron and a colleague stepped out on their own and established, Goldberg Bates, PLLC, specializing in complex commercial litigation. And in his free time, he practices law some more.

 

“A mother called me one day and told me her daughter, who happens to have the same disability that I do, was having trouble with the same school system I went through.” The mother told Aaron about accessibility issues with the school’s portable classroom and bathrooms resulting in her being excluded from certain activities and having to eat alone in a portable any time it rained.  With a hint of fun and pride in this voice he explains, “Things kind of came full circle for me… I called them and said, ‘Hey, I am back and now I got a law degree.’  I was able to get the issue resolved in about a week. They were not going to pick that fight.”

 

Aaron’s aspirations include one day running for public office and working on public policy. “I would like to use what I have been blessed with to help other people. This is both a legal battle and philosophical battle, but it ultimately takes changing perceptions one person at a time.”

 

 

Just a Regular Life
Mercedes Rodriguez-Fowler’s Story

 

“I have worked so hard to make my life regular…but honestly, it is never going to be regular.”  In 1984, a drunk driver hit her car, fracturing her spine. She left the hospital a quadriplegic with no use of her legs and little use of her arms and hands. 

 

“I returned to college after the crash. A marketing professor noticed my passion for working with people and suggested I consider a degree in Psychology. I earned a Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling from Florida International University. I met my husband in 1991 and happily married him in 1993.  In 1993, I also got a job with the Miami-Dade County School System. Our precious son was born four years later. But I worried… could I be a good enough mother?  I mean, I could not even change his diaper. Once, we were in a store and he fell and I could not help him up and comfort him.  I had to ask a stranger for help.  Can you imagine that?” 

 

Eight years later, her son is doing just fine and Mercedes knows she is a great mother. She uses those early experiences, her training and what she has learned about overcoming obstacles in her work.

 

“I have the second best job in the world (Oprah has the best one). I am currently working at Paul W. Bell Middle School as the T.R.U.S.T. (To Reach Ultimate Success Together) Counselor for 11 to 15 year olds. I teach young people life skills, crisis education, suicide prevention, self-worth and self-respect.”

 

Mercedes says she never thinks about what she cannot do as the result of being a quadriplegic. However, when prodded, she confesses that having a severe disability costs a lot of money, which keeps her in a “chronic state of fear” should anything else happen to her. And in 2005 it did.  A disability related health crisis caused her to require major surgery and remain out of work for 10 months.

 

“We need my income, so if it were not for my parents help, we would have lost the house. I could not afford to stay home and collect disability, which would hardly pay the bills. I was an emotional wreck. When I found out about the PCA program, I was hysterical.”

 

By “hysterical” she means overjoyed. With the financial help for her personal care attendant covered by the PCA Program, she was able to get back to work and able to resume a normal life. “To tell you the truth, I have a wonderful life.”  

 

CREDITS:  Stories published with permission from the Florida Association of Centers for Independent Living (FACIL). 

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