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2023 Monthly Newsletter

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A note from Debbie....

Photo of Justine Debbie and Sabrina holding up the wallet card brochure with Lucy the Dog

Happy February! I hope you enjoy our newsletter this month. We are excited to introduce you to our new guest contributors.

First, we have Architect Patricia Sendra. She is writing about the importance of designing through the lens of accessibility, beyond what is required by the law.

We also have Lawrence Jay Stein, discussing ABLE Accounts and what has changed in the recent updates to the law.  

Finally, we have Sabrina Rose Zeghibe. She is, not only a guest contributor, but our new intern. Sabrina is an undergraduate student at the University of Miami, in the Community and Applied Psychological Studies Program.

I also want to remind everyone that if you want to vote-by-mail in future elections, you need to submit a new request to your elections department. If you want to request an accessible vote by mail ballot, you will have to complete a specific request form for the accessible option. Please check with your specific election supervisor for the process. For Miami-Dade County, I have included the specific link in this newsletter. 


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The View From Here

By: Justine Chichester

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“Step with care and great tact. And remember that life’s a great balancing act.”– Dr. Seuss


I knew the moment I took my hands off of my walker to try to take those first few steps with a cane, I was entering a whole new phase of my recovery. Balance. Balance would be the key to whether or not I moved forward using that cane. Progress for me, with the cane, would only come if I could achieve the balance to steady myself.


Up to this point, my recovery entailed standing from a wheelchair and walking using a walker. The good thing about the walker is you have both hands on it, in case you start to lose your balance. Which was a huge issue for me. With both hands on the walker, I was able to steady myself when my steps became labored or I got too tired, or if I began to lose my balance … which happened (and still happens) a lot.


While I was so excited to even be entertaining this possibility of now walking with a cane, it meant I wouldn’t have both hands to guide me if I needed them. I would only have one hand on the cane, and the other one free with nothing to cling on to. I’d have to rely on my balance, to get me to wherever I needed to go.


It has been a challenge. And has often felt like starting all over again. But, after working on this for awhile now, I’ve made progress with my balance and with walking with a cane. There is still a lot of work to be done, however, so that I can be fully functional in every day life using just a cane.


This issue of balance has me thinking about how important it is in all of our lives. Not just balance physically, which many of us take for granted every time we stand or take a step, but balance in our lives, in general. As I regained much of my independence after my spinal cord injury, my “new normal” looked very different than my life pre-injury. Now it takes me longer to get ready than it did before; my body doesn’t always want to cooperate with me and the plans I’ve made; I’ve found I get tired easily, and doing numerous things in the same day is sometimes difficult. So, planning my days ahead of time has become so important. Finding the balance with all of these things and my daily activities has become so crucial. And I’m still trying to find that balance.


I think we all have this in our lives. Balancing our work and finding time for family and friends…and, most importantly, finding time for ourselves. It doesn’t have to take a person who is recovering from a disability to experience that. We all struggle with finding a work and life balance. I recently read an article in Psychology Today that said of the search for a work and life balance, “Stop aiming for it, and you’ll find balance. Balance is not something we can get; it’s a state of mind. It’s the realization that life is not stable but in constant motion.”


As I work on my balance physically, walking with that cane, and also work on the balance in my life, in general, I think this is good advice to remember. Balance is “an even distribution of weight, enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady.” I think perhaps it is something that we are constantly working to attain, just as I have been with this new life I’m living as a person with a disability. After all, Albert Einstein said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” And that is exactly what I intend on doing.

Featured Article

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Accessibility & Awareness in Architectural Design

By: Patricia Sendra, NCARB


There it was, right past the swing of the door, jutting out from the corner. I calculated it was about a little over three foot tall and two foot wide and by the looks of it, heavy, solid wood. The worn, brass knobs had a distinct patina, perhaps unconsciously revealing a bit of its age. Upon closer inspection, it was evident that its ornate lines formed intricate relief images, reminiscent of the Far East region of the world. This beautiful and certainly antique piece definitely fit the image of the very trendy, fusion restaurant we were in. It just didn’t really fit into the actual space it was in….the accessible restroom.


Time after time, the above situation repeats itself in many places from restaurants to common areas of office buildings to retail spaces. An owner makes additional modifications to a space for many reasons. It could be to enhance it by adding furniture; replace worn accessories, update its appearance etc. Most of the time, these actions do not have detrimental effects on accessibility. However, some modifications can result in a room that is no longer code compliant and thus technically not usable as intended.


Accessible restrooms, like many other spaces, have distinct clear floor space requirements for each fixture and accessory. In addition, maneuvering clearances have to be maintained at doors and a turning space provided. These are not simply impositions but rather the minimum required area a person needs to turn, grasp, and maneuver to be able to move through the space and to actually use the fixtures.


In the above example, a restaurant placed additional furniture in an existing accessible toilet room. It is usually well intentioned—either an accent piece to dress up this rather utilitarian space or as in this case, elegantly masking a needed storage space for supplies. The thought process from their standpoint may be that this is simply designed as an over-sized room so that the disabled user has a bit more extra space. In reality, these are usually designed per minimum clearances. The sheer size and placement of this specific storage piece ended up encroaching on the required clear floor space for one of the fixtures rendering it virtually unusable.


The challenge herein lies in how this situation can be improved. One could argue if the end user were armed with this knowledge, better decisions would be made. To do so, it needs to go a step further; experience has taught us that change has to start from the top, which in this case is the designer.


The focus has to go back to not only planning with one’s kit of dimensions in tow—the designer needs to understand themselves the rationale behind every code-prescribed clearance and adjacencies before designing these spaces. How does a wheelchair user actually move through the space and use a fixture? As mundane as that might appear, the gymnastics of transfer are real and those inches are critical. How do those who have difficulty in grasping objects able to turn knobs or access dispensers if not positioned at certain heights and within certain distances? Or knowing that keeping the minimum clear clearance required next to doors is what assists in being able to open doors whether one is in a wheelchair, or has other impediments?


Thus, if the designers truly understand how the space is used, and enlighten owners on these principles, it would provide the tools necessary to make appropriate decisions from the get-go and in future modifications. Provisions for accessible elements should not just stem from mandates, but precisely be the result of careful thought and awareness. Only then will that stylish, hip restaurant recognize accessibility as a positive and incorporate its elements not simply as an afterthought … but as a jeweled accent in its overall brand design.

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Black History Through the Lens of Disabilities

By: Sabrina Zeghibe

In honor of Black history month, we are going to focus on the intersectionality of Black history and disabilities.

In an article by Rasheera Dopson with the Keri Gray Group, she mentioned that many people see being Black and having a disability as two separate identities that do not merge with one another. “Black Disability is … a subsection of the Black experience that not only looks at disability through a Black lens, but also illustrates the intersection of a double minority identity that is often hidden within the Black community.” However, research shows that Black people are at a higher risk of being diagnosed with a disability and experiencing other negative social determinants of health (Learn more about these statistics here). These two identities are constantly at interplay and have played a large role in Black History.

Throughout history, many prominent figures in the civil rights movement have had disabilities, but these tend to be overlooked. Two civil rights activists have had a great impact on the empowerment of Black and disabled individuals: Harriet Tubman and Fannie Lou Hamer.

Most people know of Harriet Tubman and the contributions she made within Black history, but many do not know that she lived with disabilities. She developed epilepsy at a young age as a result of unsuccessfully trying to escape from her slave owner. In her attempt to run away, her slave owner threw a weight at her head, which caused her to have brain damage and seizures. Despite having epilepsy and hypersomnia daily, she was able to direct men, women, and children slaves through the underground railroad, leading them to freedom. She later served as a Union agent in the civil war and was an influential leader in the women’s suffrage movement.

Fannie Lou Hamer, was an influential leader in the civil and voting rights movements. Hamer and colleagues were arrested after attending a workshop on voter’s rights for sitting in the “white” section of the bus. When encountering a police officer on site and in jail, she was kicked and beaten causing severe injuries that would leave her with permanent kidney and vision damage. However, these injuries did not stop her from advocating for voting rights for woman and Black people. Her preliminary efforts started the movement that led to the passing of the 15th amendment and the attainment of voting rights for all.

To read more, Rasheera Dopson wrote a fantastic blog post.

As we have seen, there is a large intersectionality between being Black and having a disability. These two identities are not separate, rather overlapping entities that can help to raise awareness and equality for one another. This Black History month, I encourage you to evaluate this intersection and appreciate the contributions that so many individuals like Harriet Tubman and Fannie Lou Hamer have made to create a better society today. 

Kat Magnoli Congratulations

Miami Inclusion Alliance (MIA)

By: Sharon Langer, Esq.

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This month, I would like to share information on Human Trafficking. There has been a lot of conversation in Florida about trafficking because Florida ranks third in the U.S. for cases, behind California and Texas. In 2021, the state had 781 reported cases, and many more went unreported. Miami Dade County ranks first in the number of cases reported. 67% are sex trafficking victims and 40% are minors. (Kristi House)

Here are just a few basic facts:

Sex trafficking is not the only type of human trafficking. Forced labor is another type. Victims can be found in legitimate and illegitimate labor industries including sweatshops, massage parlors, agriculture, restaurants, and hotels. 

Under U.S. federal law any minor under the age of 18 who is induced to perform commercial sex acts are a victim of human trafficking regardless of whether there was coercion.

Trafficking does not require movement across borders.

This is often a hidden crime. Victims are afraid to come forward and get help. There are often threats of violence. Many times, they do not have control of the identifications or any documents.

Human trafficking victims can be any race, gender, nationality, and ability and they come from all socioeconomic groups.

The limited research at the intersection of human trafficking and disability shows that persons with disabilities are victimized at a higher rate than those without disabilities.

According to the last U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking In Persons Report, persons with disabilities are one of the groups most at risk of being trafficked.

They are at higher risk because of several unique risk factors. Persons with disabilities often live and work in isolation. They have limited economic and educational opportunities and there is little to no education about human trafficking and therefore little awareness of its dangers within the disability community.

I hope that the disability community will begin to have conversations about this issue and come together to create that awareness that does not exist now.

One opportunity for that awareness is the new and interesting campaign that is working to bring this issue into the light. It is called the Blue Campaign.

It is a national public awareness campaign designed to educate the public, law enforcement and industry partners to recognize human trafficking and how to appropriately respond to cases.

The campaign works with the federal government, DHS, to develop new resources for use all around the country. It is located within the Office of Partnership and Engagement and is aligned with the DHS Center for Countering Human Trafficking. Its stated goal is both prevention of trafficking and the protection of exploited persons.

They also have two hotlines now operational:

To report suspected human trafficking to federal law enforcement you can call: 1-866-347-2423

To get help from the National Human Trafficking Hotline you can call: 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP or INFO to BeFree (233733)

Human trafficking is complicated and emotional and something not spoken of often. I hope to give you even more information in the coming months through this newsletter and I hope you will also start a discussion where you work and amongst your friends. 

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Helping People with Disabilities Communicate with First Responders.

This project has several components:

  • We make customized wallet cards for people living with intellectual/developmental disabilities and Autism.

  • We make customized caregiver wallet cards for caregivers of people living with disabilities.

  • We have an online training program for law enforcement.

  • We have a program for schools, parks programs, or community organizations.

Please click the link below to learn more about this project and to order your own customized wallet card or caregiver card.

If you have any questions, please email Debbie at debbie@justidigit.org.

Order a Wallet Card Here
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Benefits Information

By: Lesly Lopez

Are you a SSDI or SSI beneficiary? How a Community Work Incentives Coordinator (CWIC) or benefits planner can help you?


If you receive Social Security benefits and you have a job or are looking for one, there are specially trained professionals known as Community Work Incentive Coordinators (CWIC) to help you make sense of complex employment and benefit-related issues.


What is a CWIC? A highly skilled and rigorously trained cadre of Community Work Incentives Coordinators (CWICs) provide individual counseling to beneficiaries seeking employment and intensive follow-up services to ensure that they are using the work incentives appropriately. CWICS provide confidential services to people with disabilities who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and/or Social Security Disability Income (SSDI). CWICs educate beneficiaries on how employment will affect their public benefits such as SSI, SSDI, Medicare, Medicaid, subsidized housing and food stamps.

CWICs are funded through the Social Security Administration grant called WIPA, Work Incentives Planning and Assistance. CWICs are not SSA employees. However, they do serve SSI and SSDI beneficiaries, including young adults who are transitioning from school to work.


 What a CWIC can do for you?

  • Help you understand how working and earning wages will affect your public benefits
  • Provide ongoing assistance to help you manage your benefits as you transition into employment or increase your earnings
  • Provide information on available education, training, and employment services
  • Help develop and implement PASS Plans and other Work Incentives that assist you to achieve your employment goal
  • Understand the rules of specific Work Incentives and how they apply to you
  • Decide whether the Ticket to Work program is right for you
  • Understand the potential benefits of employment as a person who receives disability benefits from Social Security while dispelling the myths about working
  • Analyze how work and earnings may impact your Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), health care, and other public benefits
  • Understand the services provided by a State Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agency or an Employment Network (EN), and how they might fit best with your needs
  • Teach about the work incentives from SSA to beneficiaries and community partners.
  • Enhance self-sufficiency
  • Ensure informed choices
  • Get rid of fear in pursuing employment
  • Problem solving and advocacy
  • Benefits analysis and advisement/benefits support, planning/benefits management and
  • Information and referral about other resources available to you in the community.


To reach out your local WIPA project, please call The TTW help line at 1-866-968-7842 / 866-833-2967 (TTY) Monday through Friday from 8:00AM - 8:00PM EST.

Ticket To Work website https://choosework.ssa.gov

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Disability Resources Focus on Federal Tax

By: Lawrence Jay Stein CPA, J.D, LLM-Tax, CFP


IRS Publication 907 focuses on tax issues impacting disabled individuals. The main focus of the IRS publication is ABLE accounts. ABLE accounts are tax-advantaged accounts which are funded by family members to cover qualified expenses for the disabled individual. Per the IRS, the annual contribution limit is $17,000.

Contributions (including any contributions from a section 529 program, but not including contributions of the designated beneficiary's compensation income made under section 529A(b)(2)(B)) made to your ABLE account in 2023 can't exceed $17,000.


Links to the publications:




ABLE accounts must be compared to Special Needs Trusts. You are permitted to have both disability vehicles. While Special Needs Trusts are more flexible and allow for a higher contribution amounts, they have to be drafted by a qualified attorney. In Florida, we have an elder law section. Those lawyers focus on benefits planning. In Florida, we have the ABLE United program. Here's an article that compares Special Needs Trust and ABLE accounts.

logo for ABLE United.

ABLE United is excited to announce several new account enhancements that will make account holders’ experience with ABLE accounts even better.


The annual contribution limit has increased, and now account holders can save up to $17,000 per calendar year. Take advantage of the ABLE United gifting page feature to meet your savings goals with the help of friends, family or even an organization.


Also, those working and not participating in an employer-sponsored retirement plan may contribute above the annual contribution limit of $17,000, up to $30,590.


Additionally, in case you missed it, President Biden signed off on the Omnibus Spending Package, which included the ABLE Age Adjustment Act, increasing the qualifying age of disability onset from 26 years old to 46.


This will officially go into effect on January 1, 2026, and will open the door for an additional half million individuals with disabilities to establish ABLE accounts and start saving.

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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!

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.

Email Olivia at oliviab@drflorida.org to get on our mailing list.

ATVFL Website

Vote-by-Mail and How to get an Accessible Vote-by-Mail Ballot

By: Deborah Dietz

At the end of 2022, all requests for vote-by-mail ballots expired. This was because of a new state law passed in 2021.

What this means is that if you want to continue to vote-by-mail you need to submit a new request to the elections department.

In Florida, if you are a voter with a qualified disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) you have the option to receive an accessible vote by mail ballot by email. This option allows voters to cast their ballot independently without the assistance of another person.

Click here to request a vote-by-mail ballot in Miami-Dade County.

Click here to request an accessible vote-by-mail ballot in Miami-Dade County.

*NOTE: Requesting the accessible ballot will prompt the paper and electronic portions to be sent to the voter.

If you have any questions, please contact the Miami-Dade County Election’s Department at soedade@miamidade.gov or 305.499.8509 with any questions you might have regarding this program.

Voters who have questions should email votebymail@miamidade.gov or call 305.499.8444.

black rectangle box outlined with a yellow line and the words Supper social club in the box in white

We hope to start our Supper Social Club again in March 2023. We are looking for a new restaurant and date for the event. Stay tuned for more details next month.

If you have any suggestions, please email Debbie at debbie@justdigit.org.

City of Coral Gables Events


If you have any questions, please email the city at PlayForAll@coralgables.com.


DEI Clubhouse Hours (adults)

Mondays, 3 – 7 p.m. at the DEI Clubhouse, No registration. No Fees.

DEI Clubhouse, 3940 Granada Blvd., Coral Gables, FL 33134

Unprogrammed social time to hangout.


My Squad (adults)

Last Wednesday of each month, 6 – 9 p.m.

DEI Clubhouse, 3940 Granada Blvd., Coral Gables, FL 33134

Ticketed Monthly $5 each

February 22: Pizza, outdoor movie sing and dance along to Grease. 

March 29: Pizza, abstract art, and karaoke.

Teen Scene (ages 13-17)

Last Thursday of Each Month, 5 – 8 p.m. (companions are welcome to eat and join all activities).

DEI Clubhouse, 3940 Granada Blvd., Coral Gables, FL 33134

Registered seasonally $50 per season

February 23: Eat pizza for dinner, go fishing off the dock, then make colorful window art for the clubhouse.

March 30: Eat pizza for dinner, make crafts, and play boccia inside after it gets dark.

Camp WILD (ages 12-17)

March 20-24, 2023, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m., at the DEI Clubhouse

**This program is run by DEI staff, and open to teens with or without disabilities.

Registration (Residents: $174) and (Non-Residents: $217)

DIG Litigation Update

Litigation Update:

Disability Independence Group’s Litigation Department closed in 2022.


If you have a disability legal question, you can contact Professor Matthew Dietz at the Disability Advocacy and Inclusion Law (DIAL) Clinic at Nova Southeastern University Law School. His email is mdietz@nova.edu.


If you have a disability education issue, such as an IEP or Exceptional Student Education, you can contact Stephanie Langer at Langer Law, PA. Her email is helpline@langerlawpa.com.

The 988 Lifeline

blue square with 988 suicide and crisis lifeline written in the middle

988 is now active across the United States.

988 has been designated as the new three-digit dialing code that will route callers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (now known as the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline) and is now active across the United States.

When people call, text, or chat 988, they will be connected to trained counselors that are part of the existing Lifeline network. These trained counselors will listen, understand how their problems are affecting them, provide support, and connect them to resources if necessary.


This new, shorter phone number will make it easier for people to remember and access mental health crisis services.

(Please note, the previous 1-800-273-TALK (8255) number will continue to function indefinitely.)


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Your Upward Journey

Your Upward Journey – It is Easier Than You Think, by Patricia Perisse Bochi 

A three-part project that includes:a book, self-help seminars, and merchandise.

Click Here for More Information

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