Frontline Initiative DSP Recognition

NADSP Update: Recognizing DSPs: Past, present, and future


Joseph Macbeth is the Executive Director of NADSP

First of all, on behalf of the NADSP’s staff and board of directors, I’d like to thank our nation’s Direct Support Workforce for their commitment and dedication to people with disabilities. Moreover, I’d like to recognize the complex skills and professional values it requires to be an effective Direct Support Professional (DSP) – one of the most challenging, yet re- warding occupations in the country. I hope all of you receive the due recognition you deserve during National Direct Support Professional Recognition Week and that you take a moment to reflect on the incredible impact you have on the lives and personal outcomes of the people you support.

I have the honor of talking with thousands of DSPs each year, many of whom tell me that they don’t really need any formal recognition. They tell me that they get a sense of deep personal satisfaction that comes from some internal source for helping others on their life journeys. I suspect for some DSPs that this might be true, but everyone appreciates a look in the eye, a handshake (or a hug) and a heartfelt “thank you” from a supervisor, a family member or (especially) someone with a disability who is receiving support.

Since the deinstitutionalization movement of the 1970’s, the duties of the DSP has evolved from that of a caretaker or an attendant who merely provided coverage on a shift, to someone who is an integral part of a person life that provides comprehensive, person-centered support and shares a path toward a self-directed life for those with disabilities. The way others see DSPs has also changed during these forty years, and I believe that if we are going to continue sharing this path, then DSPs will have to become really good at connecting with com- munity in all aspects of a person’s life – home, work, play and worship (if he or she chooses). As it says in the prelude to our Code of Ethics: “The whole landscape of a person’s life can change with the coming and going of these critical supports for people.”

The United States is in the process of reforming the larger task of the healthcare industry, which includes services for individuals with developmental disabilities. Through the untiring work of self- advocates, families, DSPs, service provider agencies, and public policy makers, a largely institution- al care system has been turned on its head by developing a myriad of community-based supports and service options over the past four decades. Now we must demonstrate leadership by preserving and advancing the successes of the past by embracing our work of direct support as a profession and attracting new generations of men and women who seek it as a career.

So, if we are to really meet the needs of people with disabilities, DSPs will require a lot more than recognition. We are going to need tools to be effective community builders. We need to possess the skills to work without a supervisor standing nearby and understand professional ethics to do the right thing when no one else is looking.

How are we going to do this? Let’s continue to collaborate and work to achieve our goals in the following ways —

  • Provide competency-based training to all staff;
  • Use technology that affords DSPs more time to spend working directly with the people they support;
  • Embrace, train and adhere to the Code of Ethics;
  • Advance a voluntary, portable national credential as the gold standard of direct support practice; and
  • Collect and evaluate workforce data, such as retention and turnover rates, worker wages, benefits, and training so that we can monitor our progress, learn from our experiences, and continue to develop good workforce policy going forward.