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State’s first disability expo held at Fanning

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By Mark Scohier, Staff writer

Hundreds showed up Saturday at Fanning Springs State Park to what may prove to be the first of many such events for the state.

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Disability Expo: Party in the Park at Fanning Springs was put on by state and local agencies as a way to provide a day of entertainment outdoors for some of the regions disabled persons, as well as a conduit for information about services being offered to the disabled and their families.

“It’s turning out really nice,” said Betty Walker, Chiefland City Commissioner and director for the ARC of Levy County (LARC), one of the groups that hosted the event. “For the first time, you can look and see that it’s a big turnout. I hope we can continue to do this every year.”

Saturday’s expo, hosted by LARC, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD), the Florida Disabled Outdoors Association and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, will serve as a template for other such events, according to Barbara Palmer, state director for APD.

Palmer credited Walker for getting the ball rolling on the expo.

“Betty is really the reason for this,” Palmer said. “She got me inspired.”

Palmer said that visiting places such as LARC opened her eyes to both the “phenomenal” work that’s being done and the “horror stories about access” to facilities and services. There’s a pattern of no access in rural areas, she said, that mostly stems from lack of transportation.

The park grounds Saturday were studded with tents and booths staffed with people ready to provide information and services, such as the free dental screenings being performed. And other than being outdoors in one of the nation’s premier parks, visitors were treated to raffles, live music, dancing from a Gainesville group called Controlled Chaos, which was largely comprised of disabled persons, games of bocce ball, boat rides and sit volleyball.

“We’re very excited about this,” Palmer said, adding that APD and other agencies and organizations are looking to host the event in several other rural locations throughout the state. “We’re still evaluating it,” she said, but areas of interest include places such as Wakulla and Fanklin counties.

Michael S. Mayfield, administrator for the Tacachale center in Gainesville, said events like Saturday’s, besides being an outlet for the disabled and their families, are also beneficial to the general public wanting to get involved.

“There are a lot of people out there who want to help,” he said, “They just don’t know who and where to help.”

Palmer and Walker had a vision to let people know what’s available, he said. “This is a great thing. This is a good event.”