Frontline Initiative

A Good Support Person Works for Me


James Meadours lives and works in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He is co-chair of Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered and a member of the Frontline Initiative’s editorial board

I think a person with a good attitude and values usually makes for a good staff person. Sometimes, I think the way people are raised determines how they will treat other people they work with. If the direct support workers act mature, responsible, and dependable, that’s usually a good sign.

On the other hand, if staff have a poor attitude, or are aggressive and show lots of anger, I don’t think they’re very good staff. For example, when they snap at me and say, “Don’t do that,” or forget important things I need or just don’t care or make sense about why they want something done or not done, I can tell they will not be a good direct support worker.

While I lived in the group home, I had a big problem with one of the staff. We became very angry with each other. But after awhile, we agreed to talk our problem out and became friends again. She helped me to learn that even the really tough arguments can be worked out if both sides are willing to talk it through.

Then there was the time when I was working at a workshop. I had been there three years. We got a new green house manager and the change was difficult for me. I was comfortable with the old manager. The new manager didn’t like how I was performing and, one day, told me to sit down and quit working. I had to sit out for thirty minutes without pay. I had never been told before that there was a problem with my performance. She told me that she wanted me to do the work her way and was very defensive about it. This did not make me feel good and I did not feel like she was willing to talk it through with me so that I understood what she wanted. I do not think she thought about how the change was affecting me.

I have received support from direct support workers at school, in the workshop, in the group home, and, now, in my assisted living program. I believe that staff are important to help with emergencies and to help make things go easier in my life. A good support person works with me and my schedule. Once, a staff person made me ask my boss at the clothing store if I could get off work earlier to help accommodate the staff person’s schedule. Although this was done so the staff person could give me the support that I needed, it was to help the staff person. I was uncomfortable doing this and I could tell my boss didn’t appreciate me asking. Later, I told another worker who helped me to understand that it was unethical of the staff person to ask me to do that.

All in all, I think direct support workers should be rewarded for good performance. It will help if they know that the person with a disability wants to work with them and have a good relationship. Maybe self-advocates and agencies could work together to develop a quality assurance evaluation on direct support workers. The people needing support should be a significant part of the evaluation process. This is something the Alliance for Direct Support Workers could talk about and work to make better for both direct support workers and people with developmental disabilities.