Frontline Initiative Stress and Burnout

Going the Distance:
DSP Training in Alaska


Karen Ward is the Director of the Center for Human Development University Affiliated Program.

Kristin Ryan is a Project Assistant with CHD:UAP

Alaska has a population that is as diverse as its terrain. There are urban population centers, as well as small communities that dot the landscape. Many of these communities are far beyond being simply rural. They are remote. The majority of smaller Alaskan communities can only be reached by plane or boat. This remote quality lends itself to a sense of isolation among people who live in these communities. The Direct Support Professional in Alaska is not immune to this isolation. The cost of transportation alone has prohibited most training opportunities outside of an agency. 

In 1996, The University of Alaska-Anchorage Center for Human Development: University Affiliated Program (CHD:UAP) created a series of distance delivery courses to overcome this barrier. This series consists of various topics — Introduction to Service Provision, Positive Behavior Supports, Assistive Technology, Person-Centered Planning, and Supported Employment — all of which will eventually be online. As of June ’98, Introduction to Service Provision, Positive Behavior Supports and Assistive Technology are online and 136 DSPs have completed them. These three courses are offered two to three times a year, with Supported Employment and Person-Centered Planning under development. 

Distance delivery has proven to be a challenge. Alaska was once a leader in distance technology; however, the rapid pace of innovation in the field has left most of the state falling behind. Few DSPs have access to the Internet and other computer technology. Creating training materials that are interesting and engaging has also been difficult. Furthermore, there are only a few locations in Alaska that can access technologies such as compressed video or interactive television.

Our approach to overcoming these obstacles relies on using the technology that is available in Alaska. Courses consist of instructional videos with a student handbook, application activities, and weekly audio conferences. This approach has been proven successful in meeting Alaska’s needs.

A unique feature of this training is the employer’s role. An advisory board composed of employer agencies helped develop the curriculum. Participating agencies have supported DSPs by paying tuition fees and/or allowing workers to take courses during work hours. Participants use their own working environment as an extension of the classroom. Assigned activities relate to applying information to real work situations. In fact, many of the courses require the participants to identify a situation or person prior to enrolling in the course. This direct link to the agency has allowed participants to learn on the job. A participant commented, “I liked the opportunity to share ideas and thoughts with coworkers about the people we support. Having been in this field for years the old way, this was an excellent way for me to really learn the current direction DD services are taking." 

The distance-delivery courses are offered with the option of receiving college credit through the University of Alaska Anchorage Prince William Sound Community College, which is the only college in the state to offer a degree program that focuses on developmental disabilities. To date, 34 participants have elected to take the courses for credit. The supported role of the employer has made this training project work. The desire for excellence found in the Alaskan DSP workforce has made it a success.

Karen Ward is the Director of the Center for Human Development University Affiliated Program.


Kristin Ryan is a Project Assistant with CHD:UAP.