Frontline Initiative: DSPs Using the NADSP Code of Ethics

Patrick Lives his Theater Dreams


Cheryl Nelson is a direct support professional at AHRC-NYC in New York, New York. She can be reached at

Woman with long reddish-brown hair, green eyes, wearing a black sleeveless top and necklace with a silver chair and bluish-green stone pendent. She is looking at the camera and smiling.

Cheryl Nelson, author and NADSP E-Badge earner.

Patrick*, a person who receives support, is a talented dancer who attends the day program where I work as a direct support professional (DSP). He is also a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, asexual+ (LGBTQIA+) community and loves to write and perform, particularly musical performances. Patrick also uses a device to communicate, is very creative, and I have been fortunate to work with him for nearly 10 years. He would love to be more involved in community life and live independently in the community.

Patrick loves musicals and we often talk about our favorite musical soundtracks and videos. Together, we created a musical group where we wrote and created our own musical film, based on an original story. Patrick thoroughly enjoyed this experience and wanted to put on a live musical show, although he had never experienced a live musical performance before. I asked him if he would like to see a live musical performance. He said he would love to do that. I discussed with my supervisor if we could facilitate this. The supervisor thought it was a wonderful idea and allowed us to have a celebration day where we could go for a meal and then watch a Broadway performance.

When planning the activity, I shared with Patrick the different Broadway shows he could see as well as places to eat within the area. This way, he could choose the show and the type of food he wanted to eat. Patrick wanted to see Les Misérables and eat at a BBQ restaurant. From there, we worked out the show times, when we would need to leave the restaurant to get to the show on time, and the food options that met his dietary requirements.

On the day of the activity, I met with Patrick, and we went to buy Broadway tickets. I reminded him of the different shows available to him and asked if Les Misérables was still his preferred choice. It was. I supported Patrick by using his communication device to buy the show tickets and then to order his meal at the BBQ restaurant he had chosen. Patrick ordered his food and drink, and then entered the theater and saw Les Misérables in person. After the show, I asked him if he wanted to stand at the stage door to meet some of the Broadway actors in the show. Patrick loved this idea and got autographs and photographs with Broadway actors, along with other patrons of the musical performance.

The trip was an incredible success and Patrick shared his experiences with his peers at the day program. From here, he decided to create a musical show based on musicals that inspired the group, with Les Misérables taking center stage. Patrick has also been instrumental in writing an original show called Lockdown—The Musical, where he and his peers used music, dance, and creative arts to make something meaningful from the COVID-19 pandemic. They expressed the thoughts and feelings of not only the group but of the community as we progressed through the pandemic. Patrick and his peers also danced in a musical show at an off-Broadway theater. He is now part of a Broadway group where, along with his peers, he dances and performs with Broadway actors in an off-Broadway theater. He also teaches choreography to Broadway actors. Patrick has seen more Broadway musicals in person and has experienced the world of theater, which he hadn’t done before, all sparked from a conversation and his first trip to a Broadway show.

When planning activities and community opportunities, the person needs to be at the forefront of the decision-making process.

At the heart of the role of the DSP is the person supported. The role of the DSP is to assist the people supported to live enriched, valued, and rewarding lives, in accordance with their dreams and goals. When planning activities and community opportunities, the person needs to be at the forefront of the decision-making process. The person is the one who best knows their wishes, dreams, and goals. They should be involved in every part of the planning process. When planning an activity by yourself as a DSP, you are diminishing the right and the responsibilities a person supported has in making their own choices and decisions in life. When a person being supported is included with activity planning, they can share what is important to them and the outcome they would like. It allows them to be more included and independent with making their own life choices. The person can then feel more valued and respected for having input and their choices listened to. They feel supported, which motivates the person to choose the goals and outcomes they want. They are motivated to participate in activities, to be more involved in their community, and have the same experiences as people without disabilities, rather than just complying with the activity the DSP has chosen for them. When the person is involved in planning, they have a greater sense of accomplishment and achievement as they discover what is important to them and what brings them joy. It also allows the person to develop higher self-esteem and confidence in themselves and their accomplishments.

The NADSP Code of Ethics is the most valuable guide in a DSP’s toolbox. It drives a DSP to think both critically and ethically within their day-to-day decision-making. It is meant to ensure that people who receive supports are living rich, independent lives. I try to align my daily work practices to the Code of Ethics, as I feel the people I support benefit from having a DSP who knows and understands this code, particularly when offering person-centered support.

The main tenet I used when planning this activity for Patrick was person-centered support, in particular to, “Recognize that the unique culture, social network, circumstances, personality, preferences, needs and gifts of each person I support must be the primary guides for the selection, structure, and use of supports for that person.” Seeing Patrick’s passion for the performing arts, his talents as a dancer, and his love of musical theater drove me to ensure that the activities and support I provided matched these gifts and provided him and the other people in the group with enriching life experiences. This also aligns with, “Focus first on the person and understand that my role in direct support will require flexibility, creatively and commitment.” Being creative and committed to provide the best support possible is always at the forefront of my decision-making. There are so many unique and varied opportunities within the community around us. Creatively using these opportunities provides a wealth of resources to incorporate into daily activities. The people supported should always be at the forefront of their growth and learning experiences. Putting the people supported in the driver’s seat elevates their confidence, independence, and self-esteem… and your own. That is why the Code of Ethics is so vital to our role as direct support professionals.

* All the names in this article have been changed to protect privacy.

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