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Helping families get disability services after aging out of school

Fort Myers, FL – Goodwill looks for gaps in available services, and meets those needs to help people in Southwest Florida move forward. Recently, a huge gap in services was realized while helping young adults with disabilities as they aged out of the school system. It’s called Disability Navigation, or knowing how to navigate the disabilities services system in Florida.

“Pathways to Opportunity was receiving weekly phone calls from parents stating their child was going to be aging out of the school district and wanted them to start (PTO) the following week,” explains Jessica Tursi, Goodwill SWFL’s Director of Disability Services. “When asked if the family had Medicaid Waiver/APD funding they didn’t know what that was. We eventually started helping families who were interested in signing up, which then led us to wonder how many families were out there that needed help obtaining services, that didn’t know about us.” 

The Medicaid Waiver Waitlist or Florida Developmental Disabilities Individual Budgeting Waiver is a complicated application for state-funded life skills development adult day training, prevocational services, residential habilitation, respite, and many more services for individuals with developmental disabilities. There is a waitlist for services in Florida, so the earlier a person can get on the waitlist, the better the chances of receiving services when the school can no longer provide them.

“I was helping families through PTO and giving them my tips over the phone, which led me to create a packet for families,” explains Tursi. “The topic of discussion in almost all the boards I sit on seemed to always be about how to help families transition out of High School. I started sharing the packet to the boards, and they started sharing it to other contacts.”

Since officially starting Disability Navigation services in January of 2023, Goodwill (through Pathways to Opportunity) has served 27 families across Florida, and distributed packets to countless others. 

“Based on the feedback and demand for presentations of Disability Navigation Services, I would say the need is monumental,” says Tursi. “Families often don’t know what is available to them, which can cause health and safety risks. Our goal is that families understand what their options are, and know that there are organizations here to help.” 

Many families have no idea how to get started with the application process, and those who apply may not fill out the form correctly and get extensively delayed when the application comes back through the system for corrections.

Tursi shared, “Several families have said that they hear advice from others that may not be true, which delays the process even further. I have also encountered families that thought they were on the waitlist for years but never actually turned in a completed application.”

“The ability to have access to critical services for individuals with IDD is so important to live happy healthy lives,” explains Tursi, “but, also for the community to see individuals as members of their community and not outliers.” 

Goodwill Industries of Southwest Florida also provides community disability education sessions helping families plan for their future. For more information about Goodwill Disability Navigation, contact Jessica Tursi at (239) 995-2106 Ext. 2301.

Goodwill Industries of Southwest Florida is committed to serving people with disabilities and disadvantages by offering life-changing opportunities to achieve independence. For information on how Goodwill SWFL positively impacts the community, visit


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