In 1915, the State of Florida established a commission to evaluate the need to establish an institution for persons who were “indigent, epileptic, and feebleminded.” In 1921 The Florida Farm Colony for the Feeble Minded and Epileptic opened in Gainesville, Florida. This was the beginning of State funded services for persons with developmental disabilities.
In 1950 the first convention of the “National Association of Parents and Friends of Mentally Retarded Children” was held. This group would later become known as The National Association for Retarded Children. In 1953 a band of determined parents and friends in Florida came together to form the Florida Council for Retarded Children in Tampa, Florida with J. Clifford McDonald as the first President. The Council in Florida became affiliated with what had become the National Association for Retarded Children in 1957.
Over the next 50 years, Florida, along with other states would continue to open institutions for persons with developmental disabilities. By 1977 there were six state institutions and one institutional program for defendants in the criminal justice system whom also had mental retardation. By the end of the 1970’s Florida had housed a maximum of over 6,500 individuals in their institutions.
During the 1960’s and 1970’s the Florida Council worked with parent groups to establish local chapters. These chapters organized “specialized” schools in order to assist parents in teaching their children necessary daily living skills. By 1964 the Florida Council had changed its name to the Florida Association for Retarded Children, (FARC). The State of Florida was establishing a Division of Mental Retardation in 1965 and by 1969 the Division of Mental Retardation was granted a portion of funding from the institution in Arcadia to start the Community Residential Placement Program. The Legislature placed the Division under the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services and provided $500,000 for the first residential programs in the community.
By 1975, many community programs were established as day training programs as well as community residential treatment programs. Florida ARC was working with the legislature to pass “A Bill of Rights for the Retarded.” The legislation was passed and then in 1977 the Board of Florida ARC advocated for and succeeded in having Florida Statute 393 passed into law. This statute would set the stage for many years to come as to how services would be offered in Florida.
After a growing battle over the quality of care at many of the state institutions, Florida ARC filed a class action lawsuit in 1979 to close Sunland Orlando. Over the next five years, ARC/Florida and other groups worked on setting up community settings for individuals that would eventually leave the state institutions and move towards community settings. Sunland Tallahassee closed in 1983 and finally in 1985, the last resident left Sunland Orlando.
By the 1986 Legislative session, the Florida ARC chapter had officially changed its name to ARC/Florida and successfully passed highly contested but necessary zoning legislation to permit groups of six or fewer individuals to live in single family residential zones. Again In 1988, ARC/Florida was successful in having legislation passed. This time, landmark legislation that prohibited the use of noxious and painful stimuli in training programs as well expansion of the “Bill of Rights” and adding community services to the list of services authorized in statue was accomplished.
Each year ARC/Florida continued to have reduction of the wait list in Florida as a legislative priority, along with other issues. In 1993, ARC/Florida was successful in working with family groups to pass legislation to establish Family Care Councils around the State. Later in 1994, ARC/Florida successfully sponsored and had landmark legislation passed which prohibited the execution of individuals with mental retardation.
In 2003, ARC/Florida organized and rallied over 3,000 people to protest State cuts in funding for residential and day training services.
This proved to be the beginning of a very difficult period for funding of Medicaid Waiver services in Florida.
The Arc of Florida began a statewide vehicle donation program in order to raise funds for local chapters in 2008.
In 2010 the official name of the corporation was changed to The Arc of Florida. This corporate name change brought the state chapter in line with The Arc US and with the “dba” name which the state had been using since 2007. That same year, The Arc of Florida was granted permission by the Florida Legislature to be included as a recipient for charitable donations on Florida Driver’s License renewals and Vehicle Registrations. The Arc of Florida also hosted The Arc US national convention bringing between 900 to 1,000 attendees to Florida.
In 2011, The Arc of Florida adopted the rebranded Arc US logo. The Arc of Florida continues to add chapters and individuals members and in 2011 we reached the highest number of affiliated, colleague and individual members ever in our history.
The Arc of Florida continues to fulfill its advocacy mission today.
The next 50 years promise to be equally productive and exciting as we move towards a bright future for persons with developmental disabilities.