Frontline Initiative: Health and Wellness

Supporting Amy's Health and Wellness, and My Own


Karen DeBartolo is a DSP4 at STEP, in Sacramento, California. Karen has been a DSP at STEP for 10 years and can be reached at

A woman, Amy, laying on her side with a giant pillow, a soft blanket with dog footprints and dog images, and on the floor is a white long-haired dog, her companion, Buddy. She is wearing a tee shirt, and jeans, and has short dark hair. There is a window behind them with a lawn chair and mat on the ground.

Amy relaxes with her dog, Buddy.

Karen reflects on her role in promoting health and wellness for her employer, Amy Neeley, the woman she supports. Karen has supported Amy for eight years, and over time Karen has come to know Amy’s health and wellness preferences.

How do you promote healthy living and the goals of your employer, Amy, the person you support? [Note: Karen refers to the person she supports as her employer.]

Karen: My employer, Amy, has goals to stay active and eat more healthy foods. She takes her dog for a walk every day in the courtyard in front of her home. When Amy walks her dog in the courtyard, she does not use her walker. She loves to walk in her neighborhood. She walks a lot, so that is her exercise daily. She also plays with her dog outside when it's a beautiful day. If the weather is bad, she still finds ways to play with her dog inside the house. Amy is aware of how important it is to exercise each day.

A woman walks away while walking a white dog on a leash on a street. A woman is wearing a dark hoodie and pants, light-colored gym shoes, and holding a dark 6-foot leash. A dog is white with long hair and its tail is up while walking. Sky has some dark and light clouds, trees on both sides of the street, shrubs on the right side, trash cans, and striped pickup on the left side.

Amy walking her dog, Buddy.

As her direct support professional (DSP), I also became a dog walker. Since Amy uses her walker for longer distances, it is hard for her to walk her dog. At least once a day, I walk her dog around the block. I am more than happy to assist her with her dog. I love it! When Amy goes to her mom's home, she walks her dog outside with her family's support.

Amy used to be a member of a 24-hour fitness gym, but the gym closed for a long time during the COVID-19 pandemic. She is eager to renew her membership and get back into the gym. She loves to try different gym equipment and swim laps in the pool. Her goal is to go back to the gym soon.

As her DSP, I encourage Amy to add veggies that she will eat, like carrots and corn. She will eat veggies, depending on the meal. Most of the time, she prefers her carrots or corn to be mixed up with her mashed potatoes. However, I encourage and do not want to force her.

Amy dislikes veggies, but she will eat veggies in beef stew or soups. As her DSP, I encourage Amy to add veggies that she will eat, like carrots and corn. She will eat veggies, depending on the meal. Most of the time, she prefers her carrots or corn to be mixed up with her mashed potatoes. However, I encourage and do not want to force her. She loves banana and strawberry smoothies from Jamba Juice. She used to drink so much soda, but now she only drinks one mini can of soda for lunch or dinner. Instead, she drinks lots of water.

Are there barriers that you experience when supporting Amy’s health and wellness? How do you help overcome them?

Karen: Amy uses American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate, but sometimes experiences barriers in communicating. I, along with the other DSPs who support her, use ASL. Amy's roommate is deaf, and they communicate in sign language. Occasionally, Amy and her roommate get frustrated when communicating, where either Amy or her roommate misunderstands something. Since all of her staff use ASL to communicate, Amy can ask us staff for help with the situation. If Amy does not ask staff for help, then she handles it on her own. Amy always lets staff know when she is frustrated, and staff will assist her in trying to smooth things out.

When Amy is out in her neighborhood, she uses the note pad on her iPhone to communicate with people if needed. If she has questions for the store clerk, she will ask using her iPhone note pad. When she goes out to eat, she has an app that holds all her favorite foods, so when she goes to certain places to eat, she knows which foods/drinks she wants to order. She shows her phone to the cashier or server to tell them what food or drink she would like to order. That is a lifesaver for her, rather than using paper and pen.

Amy is really good at keeping all her medical appointments. Sometimes, Amy experiences barriers communicating during medical appointments when an ASL interpreter is not available, either because one wasn’t requested or because the interpreter didn’t show up. When this happens, I assist Amy to see if they have a video relay service. Some places don’t have video relay services, but when they do, it is helpful for Amy and makes things less frustrating. There have been times when we had to reschedule the appointment when there was no interpreter or video relay service. If the appointment does happen without either, it can be difficult because Amy might not understand what the doctor or nurse are telling her when they write the question or information on paper. This approach is not ideal for Amy, and it often frustrates her during the appointment.

In supporting Amy to live a healthy life, are there any benefits to your own healthy living?

Karen: Amy takes good care of herself. One way she does that is by meditating. She meditates during her alone time. She sits someplace comfortably and breathes deeply. She also enjoys new adventures, so I am always ready to give her my full support.

Amy smiles while holding her dog, Buddy. Karen is beside them. They sit on a couch with a blue, white, and brown plaid blanket with a dog motif. Amy has short brown hair, plastic-rimmed glasses, and wears a blue tee-shirt. Buddy has white long fur and has dark eyes and nose. Karen is a woman with brownish-red hair, smiling, blue eyes, and a brown tee-shirt. Buddy’s front leg is draped across Karen’s arm. A walking stick leans on Karen’s arm.

Amy holding her dog, Buddy, with author, Karen DeBartolo.

Working as a DSP can be stressful and tiring, especially when we work so many hours. I make sure I eat healthy, sleep plenty, and drink a lot of water. I exercise even during my work hours, like during my lunch break or when I can take a small break. I occasionally go out on Amy's front porch to get a few minutes of fresh air, do some meditating, and take deep breaths. This helps me get back into supporting Amy and she is okay with me doing this. It is so good for DSPs, if possible, to take a few moments of self-care during the workday, whatever that might look like for you. It's important to get back to work with a balanced and clear mind. Doing self-care applies to when I am off work, too. As DSPs, we must take care of ourselves so we can come to work with a positive attitude and support people. The people we support depend on our well-being. As DSPs, we need to look after ourselves and put ourselves first so that when we come to work, we can do the job and put the person we support first, with a focused and clear mind and a smile on our face.