Frontline Initiative: The Diverse Voices of Direct Support Professionals

Black DSPs Matter


Nicole Dama is a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Trainer. She is also the Office and Communications Manager at the NADSP in Albany, New York. Nicole can be reached at

John Raffaele John Raffaele is the Director of Educational Services at NADSP. John can be reached at

young woman with black and brown hair wearing a maroon jacket, smiling. Standing outside on a road with trees and mountains in the background.

Ryene Fenner spoke up at her organization for statement of solidarity for DSPs of Color.

In 2020, the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NADSP) shared a statement of solidarity to those feeling the pain of systemic racism and marginalization. We categorically dismiss anyone or any system that discriminates against people and recognize that a large part of our mission is to promote systemic reform. With this in mind, we have created programming and information, presented by people of color, that supports direct support professionals (DSPs) in the intellectual and developmental disability service system.

We [Nicole and John] developed and recorded a series of three webinars in 2021. The webinars were intended to provide clear information about systemic racism, show evidence of it in the direct support workforce, and offer solutions that DSPs (and organizations that employ them) can use to combat racism. In the context of listening and learning about Diverse Voices of DSPs, we wanted to place them in front of you in case you missed them the first time they aired. They can be viewed at any time. We understand that these webinars are a starting point and there is more work to do related to systemic racism and marginalization. We will continue to provide resources for DSPs to learn and share their experiences.

Systemic Racism in the United States

Dr. Juan Salinas, University of North Florida

Part One

In the first webinar, Juan Salinas explored the foundations of systemic racism in U.S. society and culture. He offered a critical analysis of structural, organizational, and individual forms of racism that impact the racial minorities in the U.S. workforce. This sociological perspective engaged in a critical analysis of racism and its impact on labor and wealth inequality. He also explored the origins of race and racism, modern racial ideologies, and anti-racism solutions to improve workplace relations.

Demographics of the Workforce and the Implications of COVID-19

Robert Espinoza, PHI

Andrea Price Carter, LeadingAge

Amy Hewitt, Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota

Part Two

This session focused on racial/ethnic disparities in the direct support workforce, compared to other workforces. It also described policies that aim to address the disparities. The first section was presented by Robert Espinoza. Robert provided an overview of the direct care workforce, including roles and responsibilities, key demographics, job characteristics, employment projections, as well as an overview of the challenges related to compensation, training, advancement opportunities, data research, and general recognition and support. He described systemic inequalities and disparities faced within the workforce related to race, gender, and immigration status, both historically and in the present day. He concluded with a brief review of solutions in policy and practice to transform these jobs.

Andrea Price Carter provided an overview of what you should know about the policy recommendations the Biden Administration put forward that impact direct support professionals, and what Congress is doing to address these issues.

Amy Hewitt focused a pandemic lens on these systemic issues. COVID-19 has shed light on the direct support workforce, disproportionality, and structural racism. A national study of the direct support workforce was conducted to better understand their experiences during COVID-19. Some findings show differences between DSPs based on their racial/ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. Data are shared and their implications discussed in the context of the services and supports for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Practical Application

Dr. Brandiss Pearson, M.I.D.A.S. Consulting

Part Three

Trainer and mother to a son who receives supports, Brandiss Pearson examined practical solutions and interactive resources for those looking to effect change. Participants are invited to:

  • Revisit shared understanding of key terms and concepts related to the topic of racism.
  • Consider the pervasive impact of racism on outcomes for individuals receiving services.
  • Identify dual marginalization status for individuals at the intersection of race and disability.
  • Explore barriers to healthy and effective engagement between providers and recipients of services.
  • Discuss biases and ways of determining what is right/wrong or fair/proper.
  • Share strategies for navigating inequitable workload, microaggressions and race, and gender-based pay gaps.

Black DSPs Matter

In 2020, direct support professional Ryene Fenner spoke up about the need for her organization to issue a statement of solidarity with her and other DSPs of color. This began a series of constructive conversations in her organization that resulted in learning and the start of systems change in the organization. Ryene explained the need for solidarity with DSPs of color in a series of five short videos where she was interviewed by NADSP’s Nicole Dama and John Raffaele. Please listen to these videos to learn more.