Frontline Initiative: DSPs Using the NADSP Code of Ethics

Using Plain Language


Aaron Van Beest is a community support worker/DSP at Chilliwack Society for Community Living in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada. He is also an NADSP E-Badge earner. Aaron can be reached at

Two people sitting at a table, putting together a puzzle. The person on the left is bald with a beard and tattoos. The person on the right wears glasses and is smiling at the person on the left.

Aaron Van Beest and the person he supports do a puzzle together.

As DSPs, it is important for us to use plain language in our daily work. The people we support may not fully understand professional jargon or complex ideas, so a DSP must be able to reword certain ideas or phrases so that the person being supported can make an informed decision and comprehend some of the more challenging ideas we are trying to convey.

One way in which I translated challenging terms was in a discussion with a person supported after we had watched a video on rights. The intention was to inform them of their rights within the community and their home. We had watched the video together and the person being supported was moderately involved in watching it. I could tell that they did not fully understand some of the ideas and jargon being used. After the video ended, I sat with them and began by asking them if they understood the video and if they had any questions. I asked if they understood what was meant by consent. They did not know the word and I explained that people needed permission to touch them. It means that others need to ask permission for a hug or to touch them in a private way before they do it. They should also ask others before touching them, too, because some people may not like to be touched or may not be in the mood to be touched. They understood this and said that they do not like being touched without being asked first, either. I also explained that staff need permission to make purchases for them, with their money. Staff are not allowed to spend their money without their permission. They seemed to understand that consent means permission.

I also asked if they understood what was meant by the phrase “free from abuse.” The person supported said people are not allowed to hit them. I agreed and mentioned other types of abuse, like people using their money without permission, yelling at them, not giving food, or scaring them. They did not know that these were also included under the word “abuse,” and they agreed that these were not nice things either.

We also began discussing the right to vote. The person being supported did not understand what the right to vote was. They didn’t fully understand what this was about, even though they had heard it before. I explained to them that voting was when a person chooses who they want to make rules and decisions about their community. I explained that it was their right to choose who they liked, and no one was allowed to tell them who they should choose. They understood this idea but were not interested in doing it. This led into a conversation about Freedom of Speech. They said they did not understand this phrase. I explained it in simplest terms to them, that it was their right to say what they wanted and to have the ideas they wanted. That no one was not allowed to tell them what to say and they are allowed to say what they think. They liked that, “no one can tell them what to say.” At the end of our conversation, I felt they had a better understanding of some of the ideas and terminology from the video. They felt they had a better idea of what they can do if they felt their rights were not being respected at home by staff or their roommates, as well as in the community.

I was guided by several tenets of the NADSP Code of Ethics. One was the tenet of Respect, and I followed this tenet by explaining challenging ideas in a simpler way so they could understand the information. I did this when I explained what various forms of “abuse” look like and when I explained their right to vote and what freedom of speech means.

The second tenet I followed was Justice, Equity, and Fairness. I did this when I provided information in a clear way that increased their knowledge of their human rights and how it applies to them at home and in the community where they live.

When a person has more knowledge about the roles of DSPs, and we do not hide behind unclear terminology, it improves safety and accountability for all.

Providing information in plain language, like the concept of consent, connects to a third tenet of promoting physical and emotional wellbeing.

It is important to use plain language respectfully to describe terms or complex ideas about the services and supports DSPs provide. Providing and explaining information honors a person’s right to informed decision making. When a person has more knowledge about the roles of DSPs, and we do not hide behind unclear terminology, it improves safety and accountability for all.

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