Frontline Initiative

Do We Make A Difference?


Sally Jochum is community living coordinator at Johnson County Developmental Supports in Lenexa, Kansas.

As a direct support professional, I often wonder if I can really make a difference in my day-to-day work. Throughout my career as a direct support professional at Johnson County Developmental Supports in Kansas, I’ve participated in a vast array of activities that have affected almost every aspect of the lives of the people to whom I provide supports. Besides the core supports of household maintenance or vocational development, my co-workers and I are out there fostering relationships with the housing authority, Social Rehabilitation Services, Social Security, banks, grocery stores, parks and recreation departments, parents, families, friends, contractors, apartment managers, doctors, hospitals, churches, and employers just to name a few. As all direct support professionals know, this list could go on and on, and I believe every DSP knows first-hand the trials and tribulations that can occur as we go out into our communities to advise, educate, mediate, and advocate for equal rights for the people whom we serve.

As a direct support professional, both the big and small achievements made by the people I support make me feel proud. I get excited when I see someone write a check independently for the first time; or proud when I see the look of pride and accomplishment of someone getting their first job in the community; or joyous when I see the spark of excitement as someone first communicates with a friend using adaptive communication equipment. Situations like this are what it’s all about and where it all comes together between the people we serve and us, the direct support professionals.

Direct service is my career. It’s not just a job, but my career, my livelihood, and my desire. I take my career seriously but I also have a lot of fun in doing so. I know DSPs play important roles in the lives of millions of people. Since direct support professionals are the ones most aware of the day-to-day events and obstacles, it’s only appropriate that our opinions and observations about the needs of the people we serve are viewed as critical. It’s my hope that roles will change, and as we become empowered, we will be part of the leadership of a new generation of direct support professionals.

In March of this year, I was asked by Gary Blumenthal, the executive director of the President’s Committee on Mental Retardation (PCMR), to be part of the advisory board for the planning of the Next Generation Leadership Symposium. I accepted this opportunity and felt proud to represent direct support professionals. The symposium, held in Washington, DC, brought together direct support professionals from all over the United States and Guam. It was a forum that allowed us to come together and share our experiences as DSPs. We had the opportunity to listen to motivational and inspiring speeches by people like Duane Alexander, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; Claudio Grossman, dean of Washington College of Law at American University; Allen C. Crocker, program director for the Institute for Community Inclusion at Children’s Hospital; and Representative Patrick Kennedy from Rhode Island.

We also had the chance to break into small groups to discuss issues surrounding public policy, research and development, community development, civil rights⁄ cultural diversity, building natural supports, health promotion and wellness and education ⁄ early intervention. After group discussions, we joined together to summarize our sessions and developed recommendations that will be presented in a report to President Clinton. It was a wonderful experience for me.

Things are always changing in our field, but we share similar concerns wherever we are. One common strand ties us: we strive to improve the lives of people with mental retardation and other disabilities. The PCMR symposium provided direct support professionals an avenue to come together to foster improvement and change. I believe many of us left there with a sense of being heard and having made a difference.

With our continued efforts for reform, equality, and individual empowerment in the supports we provide to people with disabilities, we can and will continue to facilitate opportunities for people with disabilities to stand up and be counted. In this process, we – as direct support professionals – must likewise stand up and be counted. In many cases, we are their voice and, in other cases, we continually strive to give them their own voice. I can firmly say, with all confidence, that we do make a difference – a powerful difference.