Frontline Initiative Ethics

Michigan Direct Support Professionals Power Up!

Empowering people with disabilities by making their own commitment to self-determination is the pledge of many Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) in Michigan. However, most DSPs lack the opportunities that self-advocates, families, and professionals have to meet with colleagues and share ideas to advance their interests.

This changed on October 13, 2000 as the Developmental Disabilities Institute and 20 generous organizations co-sponsored the First Annual Michigan Alliance of Direct Support Professionals (MADSP) Forum. One hundred and eighty-five DSPs, supervisors, administrators, people with disabilities, and family members from 21 Michigan counties were hosted by Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan. The purpose of their gathering was to —

  • Identify innovative ideas to increase DSP wages and benefits.
  • Identify innovative ideas for DSP recruitment and retention.
  • Meet each other, work in partnership, have some fun, and celebrate all that DSPs do for people with disabilities and their families.

The forum was a unique statewide event designed and implemented by and for DSPs. A lavish breakfast set the stage for inspirational speakers and 16 small work groups in which people recommended solutions, shared ideas, and established the relationships needed to support their own self-confidence, unity and path towards self-empowerment. MADSP members believe that taking control of their own future in partnership with supervisors and people with disabilities will give them the tools they need to make positive contributions in their direct service profession. They also believe they can use these experiences to assist the people they serve to live self-determined lives.

The suggestions from forum participants could not have been offered by a more qualified assemblage of individuals. The DSPs attending the forum contradict the high turnover rates reported in the industry with an average 6.7 years with their current employer.

The forum proceedings distributed following the event contained interesting and useful information such as the hourly rate DSPs believe to be a fair starting wage ($12.58) and the percentage who believe their supervisor asks for (60%) and uses (58.3%) their ideas. The forum proceedings contained recommendations in these topical areas —

  • Increasing DSP salaries.
  • Increasing DSP benefits.
  • Supporting a positive work environment.
  • Designing a vibrant training initiative.
  • Advertising job announcements.
  • Developing energetic recruitment strategies.
  • Implementing effective interviewing techniques.

Since 82% of forum participants were excited to use at least one idea upon their return to work, we believe that positive energy will be flowing throughout Michigan’s DSP workforce in the new millennium.

The Developmental Disabilities Institute is a proud partner in enhancing the status of those individuals who provide the most direct, intimate, and consistent support to people with disabilities. We have numerous projects where we provide assistance to this important sector of disability professionals including the Empowerment Education: Consumer-driven Training for Michigan’s DSPs initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - Administration of Developmental Disabilities. Staff members Belinda Land, Janette Jennings, Elizabeth Janks, Angela Martin, Michael Wolf-Branigin, and Karen Wolf-Branigin are involved in these DSP self-empowerment projects through their work at the Institute.