Frontline Initiative: Making Direct Support a Career

Frontline Notes

Author(s)

Julie Kramme and Chet Tschetter are the editors of Frontline Initiative. They both work at the Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis

Many direct support professionals (DSPs) enter this field and fall in love with the work. You build relationships with people that become very important. Being a DSP is difficult, skilled work. We don’t need to convince you of this! Sometimes DSPs start in this field with lots of support and training. Other times, these are minimal and you figure things out for yourself. The fact remains that this is essential work. People with disabilities rely on you for supports. What keeps you working in direct support? This issue is about Making Direct Support a Career. Do you think of yourself as a professional?

In this issue, DSPs reflect on their shift to thinking of themselves as professionals and having a career in direct support, rather than simply a job. Direct support is often considered entry-level work. In some organizations, there is little access to a career ladder. But the opportunities to grow as a professional are out there. The E-badge Academy though NADSP is a program that authors in this issue will reflect on as they share with you their journey on their career path.

DSP wages have been low: much lower than is reflective of the skill needed to provide quality, consistent supports, and much lower than reflects the values of people who receive supports and their families. This issue also contains some stories about providers who support DSPs though innovative programs because they know DSPs are likely living on a shoestring budget. Some organizations have also created employee assistance and crisis funds to support DSPs to remain in this work through a crisis.

Many people in our communities, including many friends and family members, are not familiar with direct support as a profession. In this issue, DSPs discuss how they talk about this work with those who do not know about it. Part of growing as a professional can be developing an “elevator speech” – a clear, brief description about this work . The language we use for the people who accept our supports is also very important. Self-advocates encourage the use of their names, rather than a disability label, as the most dignified way to refer to them. Listening to the people who accept supports and their families can help you develop best practices in professional behaviors and attitudes.

Here is an example of an elevator speech by Chet Tschetter

Finally, while we advocate for the people we support when we are at work, there is another level of advocacy: advocacy for yourself. In this issue is a call to action. We have spent years accepting and admiring the problems of low wages, along with lack of visibility and respect. The time to speak up for yourself and the direct support profession is now. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the fact that DSPs are incredibly valuable and essential workers. It is time for you to join your voice with others. Your story must be told. You’re not alone. When people work together through organizations like NADSP, voices will be amplified to make the changes that are long overdue.

How will you respond to the call to action? The time is right.

The editors