Advocacy for my Profession in #bFair2DirectCare


Morgan Ryan is a DSP-R, Residential Specialist at the Arc of Ulster-Greene , Kingston, NY

Morgan Ryan with a group from the Arc of Ulster-Greene after a day of lobbying at the capitol with the #bFair2DirectCare campaign.

I work for the Arc of Ulster-Greene in New York as a DSP. Specifically, for the last two years I have worked at Livingston IRA as a "residential specialist." I participate in the NADSP credentialing program offered by my agency.

Previous to this, in my personal life I often fell into care/support/helping role. But, before I worked in direct support, I always felt out of place in my "professional" life. I was frustrated with all the tasks that made up the work I did. They often felt arbitrary. I didn’t have any experience working or even truly interacting with people with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD). I tip-toed into the field working in community habilitation, waiver respite, and early intervention. The process of learning about the people I work with, their abilities, tendencies, habits, things that they love, things that make them laugh, and the way they process the world around them made me feel like I’d found the right place. I found a place where I could be present and sensitive to the emotional expressions of others. What makes them happy? What makes them sad? How can I help them express their wants and needs, and what they don’t like? I have learned to become an advocate with people by watching them grow. That excited me so much — it made me feel I had actually found what I was apt to do.

I have learned to become an advocate with people by watching them grow. That excited me so much – it made me feel I had actually found what I was apt to do.

I initially got involved with the #bFair2DirectCare campaign when my manager asked me to attend a lobbying day in Albany. A person I support caught wind that there would be a platform for her to air grievances to state legislators. She wanted to attend so I went with her to the lobby day. I also looked forward to the opportunity to rally. While I arrived wearing everyday clothing, everyone else was dressed in business casual. I realized the old adages, "you can never be overeducated or overdressed" and "dress for the job you want" were true in lobbying! I realized that even though I was wearing what I often wear to work, it is helpful to remind assemblymen and other legislators that we are professionals. It is helpful if we look the part.

The actual experience of advocating was overwhelming. I was there with our communication manager who took me under her wing. She answered my many questions. She pointed out key people and how they relate to our organization. Seeing so many people that work in our field was such a novel feeling for me. Previous to this experience, it didn’t occur to me that people cared this much about direct support. I would have never imagined myself at a professional gathering of any kind. But there I was. I was pleasantly shocked when people spoke at the rally. It was like they were talking to me and talking about me! They spoke about the work that I actually do, rather than speaking in vague political terms or general feel-good ideas. Instead, the speakers addressed the nuances, struggles, and joys that come with this job. It felt really good, encouraging, exciting, and refreshing to be surrounded with people involved with my field. They carried themselves as professionals. It got my wheels turning about my worth in this career in this field. It felt good to hear people speak to my experience. This is a job I stumbled into and I love what I do. But, I also struggle with it because no matter how hard I work, I still cannot earn a living wage.

At the #bFair2DirectCare rally, John McHugh, our Executive Director talked to me about my experience in my job. When we spoke to legislator after legislator, he referenced the things I said. He talked about my concerns about the unfair DSP wages related to the important work we do daily. He spoke about how being a DSP is a calling. People do it because they love it, and because it matters. It’s a tragedy that the people who connect with this work give up because they can’t afford to live while doing it.

It’s a tragedy that the people who connect with this work give up because they can’t afford to live while doing it.

As a competent and passionate DSP, I seek out every possible way to be a professional. I seek to give myself more and better tools to do meaningful, innovative, creative, comprehensive, person-centered direct support work. Much of our field is undervalued but I want to be a part of shaping and changing direct support for the better. There is so much advocacy that needs to be done. There are so many better ways to do this work than what we have done in the past. A society can be judged by the way it treats its most vulnerable. As a DSP, I have the ability to directly affect change in my environment and local culture. Professionalizing this field by providing resources to hire, train, credential, and retain quality DSPs can help change this work from being undervalued to being highly respected. This translates to higher quality supports and better lives for people with IDD.

I am going back up to Albany to advocate in a few weeks. I am taking several people we support as well as fellow coworkers. We will make signs. We will meet with policy-makers to voice and explain how we are professionals. We want to show them how we are competent, knowledgeable, skillful professionals who work with intent. We deserve to be paid a living wage. I am committed as a professional and as an advocate for the people I support to the #bFair2DirectCare campaign in whatever way I can.