Frontline Initiative: DSPs Using the NADSP Code of Ethics
Putting People First: Radical Inclusion for LGBTQIA People Supported
Chris Boyd, author.
A mentor of mine once said there is more to supporting someone than teaching them to cook and do laundry. A direct support professional (DSP) must support the essence or soul of what makes an individual unique. Most DSPs are very competent when it comes to individual goals that assist in basic living skills. The DSP is the champion of teaching the people we support to cook, clean, manage money, and how live in a world full of mundane tasks that are important to live but not necessarily essential to thrive in a full, authentic life. How many DSPs support an individual to reach deep inside of themselves and live an authentic life? Are we as DSPs satisfied with just maintaining people?
Let’s start with the person supported. How many of the people we support are used to the revolving door that is incoming and outgoing staff? As a new DSP, I was asked to get to know the people I was supporting. I learned some interesting things. I learned a cornucopia of crafts, colors, movies, games, sports teams, fashion, and friends. But I learned very little about what drives them and what truths they feel define them. This is not uncommon, as most of us don’t share these intimate details easily with people even if we have known them for years.
Whether an individual is connected to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, asexual+ (LGBTQIA+) community is information not easily accessible through casual conversation. All people, including people with disabilities, may find these conversations difficult. When we add the prejudices of staff and family, a person with disabilities may feel that they are letting down those who support them the most. People often find this to be a challenging revelation to their friends and family. An individual may feel anxious about revealing their true self to staff. In fact, a person supported may not even be able to communicate their private feelings regarding sexual or gender identity to the DSP.
Even if the people’s friends and family are not supportive, the DSP’s sole allegiance must be to the person they support, just as is stated in the NADSP Code of Ethics.
As DSPs, we need to be fearless when helping a person supported express themselves, as this expression may lead to strong feelings in less-than-supportive friends and family. In an optimal setting, these important people will be very supportive. Even if the people’s friends and family are not supportive, the DSP’s sole allegiance must be to the person they support, just as is stated in the NADSP Code of Ethics. The person’s self-expression may cause a rift in relationships. Being professional and consistent are the best ways to express to family and friends that it is necessary to support their loved one. Achieving this is about establishing trust with the person supported. Being professional is about providing a nonjudgmental environment where the individual feels safe and supported. We must be professional and not judge an individual’s likes and dislikes based on our own perceptions. The individual’s emotions are like the layers of an onion. Feeling safe while showing one layer will help an individual to reveal another layer. This is why supporting people to have new experiences is a key tool that the DSP has. The more an individual is exposed to a variety of life experiences, the more they will be able to express their likes and dislikes.
So, what do you do if a person you support tells you that they are part of the LGBTQIA community? First, it is important to leave your preconceptions behind. If an individual wants to sing in a community choir, they would be supported and not told by their DSP, “I don’t believe in social singing so let’s just leave that one alone”. It is the DSP's responsibility to learn and understand terminology. It is important to listen to the person expressing their feelings surrounding LGBTQIA issues. A DSP needs to be able to interpret signs that the individual is expressing. A DSP also needs to understand the use and importance of the person’s preferred pronouns and how they relate to self-understanding and self-determination. When an individual can define themselves, they can begin to create an outline that the person supported and DSP can use to build a fulfilling life.
As a DSP, these things are my responsibility. As a human being, I don’t want to support a person to be miserable. Imagine not only teaching people self-maintenance and self-care but also to live an authentic life.
Transgender and nonbinary people are up to six times more likely to have autism , by Lesley McClurg, NPR, Weekend Edition Sunday
Understanding Disability in the LGBTQ+ Community , produced by the HRC Foundation