Frontline Initiative Code of Ethics

Storytelling, DSPs, and the Code of Ethics:
A recipe for learning


Direct Support Professional Alliance of New York State (DSPANYS) is the New York State Chapter of NADSP.

Civilization would not be where it is today if not for storytelling. Long before written language and pens, paper, the printing press, and electronic media, simple storytelling imparted wisdom. The history, traditions and laws of most of today’s societies had their origins in oral tradition, the sharing of stories. 

Storytelling still has its place. From Aesop’s fables and Jesus’ parables to modern day courses in law, nursing, social work and other professions, stories or case studies play a key role in learning. They make abstract theories real; they put flesh and blood on bare bone principles! And so it should be with Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) and NADSP’s Code of Ethics. 

Every day, in many ways, DSPs live out the Code. That is good. But often, they don’t realize it, and that is not so good. It’s not so good because when DSPs run into difficult situations, need to make decisions but don’t know the Code, they will have difficulty making the right decision. The Code is there to help DSPs to consciously or purposefully make the right decision, and not happen on it by luck or accident – or worse, make the wrong decision.  

That’s where storytelling comes in. Heather Daigneault, a DSP with the ARC of Rensselaer County and DSPANYS Regional Vice President, found a very simple way to spark such discussion. She took the nine principles of the Code, cut each one out and glued it to an index card. She then distributed the index cards to a small group of DSPs she was meeting with at the ARC Day Program. She invited her colleagues to give an example of what they have done or seen which illustrated the principle on the card they were holding. It opened the door to an hour long conversation during which everyone gained a deeper understanding of the Code and how it can be applied in their everyday work. That deeper understanding happened because they shared their stories. 

What DSP doesn’t have a story to tell? What lessons are waiting to be learned? Not only can you help educate your fellow DSPs, but you can also inform the wider community. Storytelling is an essential strategy in advocating for our workforce and individuals who receive supports. Policymakers and leaders of organizations need to hear about your experiences on the frontlines. Your stories can inform their decisions to advance our field. As we tell stories, we shall always ensure and maintain confidentiality of individuals. This is an important principle in our Code. Confidentiality in practice and advocacy reinforces the foundation of our profession.

Read the stories below, shared by DSPs during NYSACRA’s and DSPANY’s annual conferences, and think about how these DSPs applied the Code to their everyday work. (More stories can be found in the series of publications Voices from the Frontlines available online at: 

Cancer scare 

A woman had a significant family history of breast cancer. During an annual physical examination, the typical yearly mammogram was not ordered by the physician. The DSP who supported the woman noticed this and questioned why. The physician’s office indicated that the mammogram was not ordered because the last three had come back negative. The doctor had wanted to hold off on the mammogram for three years, rather than continue to do it on a yearly basis. But the DSP insisted, citing the woman’s familial history. She spoke with the nurse and then the physician, and prevailed. The mammogram was done; it revealed breast cancer, which is currently under treatment.

Coming up roses 

A young man regularly attended a day habilitation program where one of his activities was packaging sponges. He was productive, but extremely bored and unhappy. A DSP working at the day program knew the young man and knew that he loved gardening at his home on weekends. The DSP suggested, and the young man agreed, that they look for a job in the gardening business. Together they went to greenhouses in the area and eventually the young man landed a job watering and fertilizing plants several days a week. He loves his new job. Not only is it more fun than packaging sponges, it pays $7.25 an hour.