Frontline Initiative Coping with Disaster

Participant Empowerment in Action:
How One DSP Helped Two Women Feel Safer

I am a Direct Support Professional (DSP) and I work with Diane and Tamira. After the terrorist attack of September 11, I noticed that they often talked about being afraid and were scared that someone might blow up the building where they worked. I talked with them a lot about their fears but they continued having nightmares. I told them they were safe and the job coach would help them get out of the building safe. They wanted to know what would happen if the job coach got hurt. What would they do? I knew it was serious and they really felt bad. I wanted them to feel safe, so I talked with my supervisor and got permission to meet with them once a week to help them make their own safety plans.

In the first meeting we talked about their fears and I asked them to tell me their greatest fears. They asked why someone would want to blow up the World Trade Towers? They told me they were afraid someone might do that at the big hotel where they worked. They didn’t know what they would do and they were scared that something bad might happen to their job coach. Then who would help them?

We talked a lot at that first meeting and I kept encouraging them to tell me as much as they could about how they were feeling. I thought it was important that they have someone they trusted to talk to about their fears. At the end of the meeting we all agreed to work on making a plan that they could follow, just in case something bad happened at work.

At our next meeting, one of the women baked cookies to surprise her job coach, who was also invited to attend. I knew it was important for the job coach to be a part of any plan. Between meetings I had taken time to find some pictures that represented the things they said made them fearful. Pictures were important because the women couldn’t read. We took the pictures and started pasting them into a scrap book, and started talking about things that made them feel safe. They drew pictures and cut out photos from magazines of things that made them safe. We put these in the scrap book too.

We met at the library a week later to see if there were any books or movies about safety. We did find a couple of videos and some books so Diane and Tamira decided to check these out and bring them home. During the next week they watched the video several times and asked me to read the books to them. The job coach asked the women if they wanted her to take pictures of them at the hotel and they said they thought that was a great idea. So after work one day the job coach took pictures of Diane and Tamira doing their job, finding the exits, going down the stairs, even standing in the parking lot by the tree that would be their designated safety spot. We also checked the local Red Cross and Community Safety Department to see if there were other safety resources they could look at.

At our final meeting, the women took the pictures their job coach had taken of them, pasted them in the scrap book, and decided to call it their Safety Plan Book for Work. That is the title we put on the cover with a picture of them where they felt safe. Inside we had a section that described in, pictures and drawings, how they felt about their fears, things that make them feel safe and finally what to do at work incase something bad happened. I asked the women to read me their book and when they said they couldn’t read I said that was okay they didn’t have too because we made the book out of pictures and all they had to do was tell me what they saw in the pictures. They giggled as they “read” their very own Safety Plan Book to me and the job coach. I know this helped empower Diane and Tamira to feel safer because they stopped having nightmares. The job coach said that every month or so she asks them to read their book to her and show her what they would do if something bad happened at work, and they do.

Community Supports Skill Standards

Competency Area 1: Participant Empowerment

The competent community-based support human service practitioner (CSHSP) enhances the ability of the participant to lead a self-determining life by providing the support and information necessary to build self-esteem, and assertiveness; and to make decisions.

Participant Empowerment in Action

As a DSP, think of ways in which you can involve the people you support when planning for disaster or emergencies. Provide or find information together about ideas on how to make emergency or disaster preparedness plans. Encourage the people you support to help in making decisions on how to carry out these plans. Practice using the plans in a way that involves the people you support. With their help, being safe in a disaster will be easier!