Frontline Initiative: DSPs Using the NADSP Code of Ethics

NADSP Update: Advocacy in Action!


Joseph Macbeth is president and CEO of the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NADSP) in Albany, New York. Joseph can be reached at

Middle-aged man with shoulder-length, thick, wavy hair, parted in the middle. He is wearing dark, horn-rimmed glasses and a dark blue button-up shirt with a small dot pattern. He is looking at the camera, caught in the middle of what he's talking about.

Joseph Macbeth.

First, we recently recognized National Direct Support Professional Recognition Week and I’d like to thank all DSPs for their commitment and dedication to people with disabilities. To be an effective direct support professional, one forges strong relationships with whom they work while demonstrating complex skills and a commitment to professional ethics. Direct support is one of the most challenging yet rewarding professions in the country. It’s my wish that every direct support professional receives the due recognition they deserve and that we all take a moment to reflect on the incredible impact that direct support professionals have on the lives and personal outcomes of the people they support, especially over the past three years during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding that has been flowing into states to help rebuild after the pandemic was designed to provide short-term solutions, but let’s be clear, there are no short-term solutions that will adequately address the long-term systemic failure to invest in our workforce. We need long-term solutions to fulfill the promises made to people with disabilities and their families. To that end, I strongly believe that empowering direct support professionals to lead their own advocacy issues, on state and federal levels, is a major step to take toward long-term systemic change.

This past spring, the NADSP brought together nearly 300 advocates to participate in our second, virtual National Advocacy Symposium where we trained and prepared direct support professionals and others, on how to hold meetings with their Members of Congress, how to share their stories and how to advocate for meaningful legislation that directly impacts their livelihood.

For the second year in a row, our advocates identified a bipartisan bill that had recently been introduced in the Senate that would require the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to revise the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system to establish a separate code for direct support professional (DSP). The bill, “Recognizing the Role of Direct Support Professionals Act”, was introduced by Senator Susan Collins (ME) and Senator Maggie Hassan (NH).

Why do direct support professionals need an occupational classification?

The Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system is a federal statistical standard used by federal agencies to classify workers into occupational categories for the purpose of collecting, calculating, or disseminating data. Currently, all workers are classified into one of 867 detailed occupations according to their occupational definition. Direct Support Professional is NOT one of the 867 occupations. They are grouped within other “caregiver” titles that do not adequately describe the true nature of their work.

The NADSP believes there are three positive outcomes for this important piece of legislation:

  1. Improving Data for Identifying Workforce Shortages – Without a SOC, there is no real measure for identifying staffing needs, gaps in services, and risks for the interruption of services. Data provided through the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) will lead to a better understanding of our workforce shortages and begin to develop long-lasting approaches to fixing them.
  2. Values the Unique Contributions of this Workforce – Despite the fact that a direct support professional’s work requires complex skills, high-level independent decision-making, providing person-centered supports, and deep ethical reasoning, there is a failure to identify this occupation on the scale it deserves. A SOC would create a concrete understanding of both the contributions and the true skills required of the workforce. Often grouping them with other caregiving titles like home health aide, personal care attendant, or certified nursing assistant. Now certainly, all of these occupations share some core competencies, but when you study the skill requirements, you will find that these jobs differ significantly. To be sure, all of them are important and essential, but they are different occupations.
  3. Implications for Service Reimbursement Rates – When states do not have a SOC for classifying the roles of direct support professionals, they use a combination of other classifications and struggle to appropriately set reimbursement rates for services that compensate direct support professionals. What’s most alarming about this process is that all states use job classifications and different percentages of them.

Strong, clear, and persistent advocacy works and good things happen when 300 direct support professionals come together to advocate on their own behalf, as they did in the National Advocacy Symposium. I’m pleased to share that the Recognizing the Role of Direct Support Professionals Act (S.1332), was unanimously passed through the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. On behalf of all of us at NADSP, we thank all of you who have helped us share this important message and we can’t stop now! Our next step is to contact the Senate Leadership offices of Senator Schumer (NY) and Senator McConnell (KY) to make sure the Bill is introduced to the full Senate for a vote.

To me, advocacy is the true essence of our work as direct support professionals, not only in the support of others but in the support of ourselves and future direct support professionals.

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