Frontline Initiative DSP Recognition

Jeffrey Long:
Florida DSP of the Year

Jeffrey: I started out as a Direct Support Professional (DSP) in 1995 in Kentucky. Since then I have worked in several different set- tings. I’m currently the supervisor for a day program in Clearwater, FL called ResCare. Along with my team, I supervise the day habilitation program for 18 individuals with a range of abilities.

FI: What do you like about being a DSP?

Over the years I’ve come to realize that working with people with developmental disabilities is really my mission in life. The pay isn’t always great, but I truly enjoy the work. Seeing the people that I support leave at the end of the day with a smile on their faces, knowing that I helped them progress in some way, is what makes it all worth- while.

FI: What have you learned from the people you support?

I’ve learned a lot from the people I support. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that it is importantto think outside of the box. It is important to really listen to the people we support and try to hear the why of what they are saying, not just the words themselves.

For example, if someone with a disability says he wants to learn to drive, then it is important to figure out what it is about driving that he likes. Does he really want to learn to drive? Or is it that he just likes cars? Or that he wants to take a trip? Once we know why someone is asking for something, then we can figure out how to support that person’s dream.

Another thing I’ve learned is to pay close attention to the people we support. We have to give them opportunities throughout the day to talk. And we have to listen without interrupting. If I see someone getting upset, I ask the person to come into my office. We sit down and I let the person talk about what is upsetting him or her. I just listen and make sure the person knows I am taking him or her seriously. With people who don’t speak, I watch their body movements and facial expression to try and understand what they are wanting or needing.

FI: What has changed in the field since you started?

The field has changed since I started in 1995. People with disabilities have more opportunities now to be included in the community. They have more choice and freedom about what they want to do. These are good things. I make sure that they have input into their habilitation plans and the activities that are planned. I spend time with every person helping them understand what their habilitation plans are. I help them understand their choices so they can put into the plan what they really want.

FI: Please share more insights

My advice for anyone in our field is to invest yourself in each individual you support. You have to build up that relationship; build trust. A lot of staff come and go in the lives of people with disabilities.

That can make it hard for them to trust. So it is really important to create a solid, positive relationship so they know you can be counted on. Then, if someone gets upset, he or she will know that you can be trusted. That alone can help people calm down when they are upset.

One of the things I would love to see for our field is a national conference for DSPs. Having the chance to talk to other people who have the same kind of job you do would be helpful. A conference would be a great place for DSPs to regenerate, recharge, and get new ideas from each other.

FI: What are others saying?

ANCOR and ResCare: Jeffrey’s focus is on having those he supports become active in the community. Jeffrey created a bowling league and also coordinates weekly shop- ping trips, library visits, religious worship and visits with family and guardians. He’s always looking for community events and is mindful of the educational aspects of the experiences. He also created a sensory room for relaxation... Jeffrey is a DSP of many talents!