The AOA has become the largest association of its kind in South Florida with up to 60 diverse agencies (representing education, health, social service, community service and governmental agencies, etc.) coming together to purposefully network, share, and come up with innovative ideas that serve the interests of individuals with disabilities and other vulnerable populations (please see more at http://www.aoasf.org).
Although the AOA began in Miami-Dade County, Interested agencies are now coming together in other South Florida counties to be part of this endeavor. No doubt each county will begin with just a “handful” of those who can adjust their schedule to become involved in some way, but our goal is to eventually bring together over 200 or more agencies that would like to come together to promote common interests and initiatives that benefit individuals and populations with special needs.
Who leads the AOA?
The AOA has no “official” leaders, it has no direct funding, and it is not obligated to any other organization or institution. It’s success is in the good will and collegiality of those who participate and who also recognize that they can assist their own students, clients, patients, consumers and the community in general through participation. There is no commitment from any participants and regular participation is not expected. A team of “Facilitators” work together to schedule meetings and prepare agendas. Anyone who is able to make a commitment to set aside time to assist in this process is eligible to become a Facilitator or assist.
There is an AOA Executive Board that represents diverse areas of the community; however, the Board serves in an advisory capacity to ensure that the Association is working to maintain value to ALL the participating agencies, to promote initiatives that are relevant to the majority of agencies, and to recommend and support ideas that promote collegiality and positive energy.
When do we meet?
Over the last decade, agency representatives have attended monthly meetings that are usually held on a particular day of the month. As the AOA is now expanding to multiple counties, meetings are arranged as particular agencies are able to sponsor a meeting location. Once the new South Florida structure becomes finalized, it is anticipated that a regular meeting structure will be established and each county will sponsor meetings as they determine the need.
Who is invited?
The AOA is for any non-profit or governmental agency or educational institution that directly or indirectly serves persons with disabilities or other vulnerable populations. One participant is welcome to invite another agency if it meets these basic criteria.
Who sponsors the website aoasf.org?
The AOA website is sponsored by one agency, and any adjustments or updates made must meet the approval of the owner of the website domain. For suggestions for the website, please check with the meeting facilitator.
Are there any restrictions?
The AOA has grown and prospered when members came together for a common purpose and agreed NOT to use meetings for advocacy, for political purposes, or any personal agenda. We also do NOT address ADA or other legal parameters since there are many other organizations that address these issues.
What are the areas of concern for the AOA?
The AOA was originally built upon 3 pillars developed by the National Council on Disability (NCD), the agency that makes recommendations to the federal government. The pillars are Living, Learning, and Earning. These objectives were featured at the 20th anniversary of the ADA conference sponsored by the NCD in Washington, DC in 2010. Subsequent to that conference, the AOA in Miami-Dade County adopted a fourth pillar: Serving. The agencies meeting at that time agreed that providing inclusive service opportunities for individuals with disabilities and other vulnerable populations was recognizing an essential part of life and created new opportunities to demonstrate the potential of these members of our community. The four pillars of the AOA are now represented in the logo (see the letterhead).
What has the AOA done?
One of the most significant projects of the AOA was to bring all agencies together to create an accessible emergency prep guide for all vulnerable individuals in Miami-Dade County. This was published through grant funding and distributed to thousands of individuals. Accessible versions in various languages (Creole, English, Spanish) including ASL is now available on the AOA website.
The AOA has partnered with several Chamber of Commerce groups as well as major businesses to create brochures and public service videos that feature the potential of individuals with disabilities in the workplace.
Recently, an IRS representative in Miami-Dade County stated that, “In partnership with the IRS, AOA members and other organizations serving [persons with disabilities] have helped to promote our free income tax preparation services. Last year, in my Territory (Maitland to Key West) volunteers prepared tax returns for 11,084 individuals with disabilities and/or their families.”
The AOA has also been supportive of many participating agencies that needed funding, resource or participation support. These efforts of the AOA benefited such groups as the Miami Heat Wheels, Nature Links, Shake-a-Leg Miami, SCLAD, and many more.
The impact of the AOA has been felt in every part of the county and at every level. There is now an annual AOA Ability Awareness Fair-Forum that develops new initiatives each year and recognizes agencies, businesses and members of the community who have made significant contributions in the interest of vulnerable populations.
Which populations benefit?
Initially, the AOA worked to improve employment opportunities for adults with disabilities including college students with disabilities. Soon the AOA included high school students transitioning to training or educational opportunities.
In more recent years, efforts have been made to collaborate with agencies such as the Mailman Center that serve young children with disabilities.
With the publication of the Emergency Preparedness Guide, the elderly and those who have very limited English fluency have also benefited.
Depending upon circumstances that arise, the AOA has addressed needs of homeless, those needing affordable housing, those needing clothes for work, those seeking accessible recreational opportunities, those who need work skill training, and many other groups. With the publication of the Emergency Preparedness Guide/Kit, all vulnerable populations have been served.
What agencies are current members?
A partial listing of agencies can be viewed at the AOA website. The list ranges from major federal and state agencies such as the Social Security Administration, the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and the Department of Health. The Commission on Disability Issues (CODI), the Center for Independent Living (CIL) in Miami, and the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) of Miami have also been foundational members. Various colleges and universities have participated and almost all South Florida AmeriCorps agencies have participated to address service opportunities. One of our most important partners has been the Miami-Dade Office of Emergency Management.
How do participating agencies benefit?
- Outreach/awareness objectives to potentially hundreds or thousands in the community.
- Professional development for participants as we become more educated as to what agencies are available to assist those we serve. We also sponsor presentations on topics of interest to the participants.
- Funding support as participating agencies often provide funding support during fund drives or through grant collaboration.
- Referrals as participating agencies may have resources that are appropriate for those we serve.
- Resources that are shared at meetings.
- Mutual support when needed as agencies have funding needs, or support for initiatives or events, the entire AOA generally provides support for fellow participants.
What are the core areas of interest of the AOA?
- Opportunities to demonstrate potential in service activities or events
- Opportunities to demonstrate potential in work experiences and employment
- Early intervention
- Innovative thinking and innovative use of technology
- Safety in emergency and disaster situations
- Recognizing individuals, agencies, and businesses that improve all the above
What are the Objectives & Functions of the AOA?
- Network, Share, Promote Human Potential, Accessibility, and Inclusion
- The AOA also serves as a means of professional development for all participants.
- The AOA meets the outreach objective of many participants
- Build collegiality and cooperation among all agencies in South Florida
For more information, please contact:
Phone: (305) 794- 3861