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How to Apply for OPWDD Programs in New York State

Posted on October 5, 2021

In New York State, people with disabilities can get crucial support and educational services from the Office of Persons with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD).

These programs can be life-changing, helping people live full and independent lives and continue learning important life skills even after they have aged out of the school system.

The process of applying for OPWDD services, however, is rigorous.

In a video from the Cuddy Law Firm, special education attorney Alison Morris outlined the OPWDD eligibility and application requirements:

  • The applicant must have a developmental disability (for example conditions like autism or cerebral palsy).
  • The developmental disability had to have started before age 22.
  • The disability is permanent.
  • The disability substantially limits the person’s ability to function in society.

And these are the materials you have to submit for an OPWDD application:

  • A cover form
  • A psychological evaluation from the last three years
  • An IQ assessment as part of the evaluation
  • An adaptive functioning assessment as part of the evaluation, which can include other standardized tests, reports from caregivers, and observations of the person with developmental disabilities
  • A social history from the last year
  • A medical report form the last year
  • Any other supporting documents, such as Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) or previous evaluations

Applicants who test with higher IQs could face a more difficult time accessing OPWDD services.

“OPWDD will deny for any reason it can,” Alison said. “They don’t want to be finding people eligible for services they don’t think need services. And if they think there’s a reason to deny, they will.”

That means higher-IQ applicants, or their parents or caregivers, will need to submit more documentation of deficits in their daily living skills, such as hygiene, managing money, interacting with others, or being safe on their own.

Another requirement for getting into OPWDD services is attending an informational session called “the front door.”

Advice on Successfully Applying for OPWDD Services

Alison had two key tips on applying for OPWDD services.

No. 1: Don’t overstate your child’s abilities.

In the documents you submit for a child applying for OPWDD services, don’t focus on how they function on their best day, or on your best hopes for their future.

Instead, focus on the severity of your child’s needs. You shouldn’t exaggerate their challenges, but you also shouldn’t sugarcoat their skill level.

Again, OPWDD is seeking to serve people with the greatest needs, and they will look for reasons to declare someone doesn’t need their services.

No. 2: Don’t agree to a solo interview with your child.

If OPWDD wants to interview your child alone, insist that you be there, too.

“You want to be there to make sure questions are answered correctly. You want to think about, ‘Do we want our child to be answering questions on her own, questions we don’t what they’re asking, what the answers might be? Do we need to be there to correct information or give accurate information?”

When you secure access to these services, it’s one step forward in ensuring that your child has the best opportunities for a full life.


Alison also explained how OPWDD day programs started reopening in summer 2020, after the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some reopened with partially online and partially in-person formats.

They were all required by the state to provide a COVID safety plan.

COVID safety for the OPWDD programs included:

  • Screening questions for all participants about any contact they’ve had with COVID
  • Keeping home anyone with a household member in quarantine
  • Sending home anyone with symptoms
  • 15-person limits on group sizes
  • 50 percent capacity for van or bus transportation
  • Social distancing requirements for staff members
  • Mask-wearing requirements for staff members.

If you have questions about applying for or navigating OPWDD programs in New York, get in touch with the special education and special needs planning attorneys at the Cuddy Law Firm.

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