Family Network on Disablities – In a world of diversity we are all different


February’s topic: Family Network on Disabilities, Parents Education Network (PEN). On Wednesday, February 11th, Eliana Tardio, PEN Program Co-Director, presented along with Joe Labelle, Youth Advocate, provided an overview of the services PEN provides in the community for people with special needs. The population they serve includes persons with disabilities from 0 to 26 years old, their families and the school systems. In addition, the program included information related to awareness, appropriate language, and the expectations for the community to promote natural inclusion for people with disabilities.

Pictured: Eliana Tardio, Program Co-Director, Parents’ Education Network (PEN) – A Family Network on Disabilities (FND) Program

Slide: “In a world of diversity we are all different.

As a parent to a citizen kid with special needs it is my job to raise a responsible, accountable child, regardless of any differences between my kids and everyone else’s. So, how can you help us to achieve our goal of raising a citizen kid with special needs in a world of diversity?”

Featured Photo by Birgit Pauli-Haack

PEN, an FND Program

PEN’s Mission: “Striving for the complete integration and equality of people with disabilities in a society without barriers.”

Joe Labelle, a Youth Mentor for PEN, an FND Program, opened the presentation by identifying himself as a person with a learning disability. He then spoke on the Parent Education Network is funded through the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. PEN provides Parent Training and Information (PTI) services for Collier, Hendry, Glades, Martin, Broward, Miami-Dade, Lee, Palm Beach and Monroe Counties. PEN is made up of “parents and . . . people with disabilities” who give support for becoming a self-advocate. They do this through workshops that include topics such as Your Guide to an IEP (Individual Education Plan), Planning for Life After High School, Bully Prevention, and Connecting Across All Differences. In short they “help to ensure that parents of children with the full range of disabilities have the training and information they need to prepare . . . for school [as well as to] lead productive, independent lives”.

Disability and Diversity

Eliama Tardio, PEN Program Co-Director, defined diversity as “we are all different”; and demarcated disability as “part of diversity and part of the whole”. With that understanding Ms Tardio proceeded to advise on how we can help by treating persons with disabilities as we treat everyone else.

  1. When possible use the person’s first language, rather its English, Spanish, Haitian Creole or Vietnamese.
  2. Put the person first, the disability second by recognizing the unique individual. A person who feels respected has faith in themselves.
  3. Be open minded. There is no room for pity or shame; instead celebrate the unique person.
  4. Keep in mind that not everything is about living with a disability.

The best intervention is unique to each person. According to Ms. Tardio, this works for her as a parent of two children with disabilities (pictured below). But, the next parent may have a different approach. Once again: Diversity!

Mr La Belle’s and Ms Tardio’s presentations were upbeat and invigorating.

Next month join us on March 11th, 12 – 1 pm, SWFLWorks, 750 South 5th St. Immokalee, FL 34142!

Donna Hardy Johnston, Family Literacy Academy of Immokalee


Eliana Tardio, Program Co-Director, Parents Education Network (PEN) – A Family Network on Disabilities Program; 2196 Main Street, Suite K, Dunedin, FL 34698; T: 239.770.2537, F: 727.523.8687; @ELIAMATARDIO;

Joseph La Belle, Youth Mentor PEN/POPIN – an FND Program; 2196 Main Street, Suite K, Dunedin, FL 34698; T: 727.637.7006, F: 727.523.8687;

For information on free workshops call: 727.523.1130 or 800.825.5736

Information online concerning programs and workshops:

FND University information and enrollment:



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