Frontline Initiative Employment Supports

What works in community employment supports:
one DSP's experience


Lindsay Short is President of DSPAM and an Employment Consultant at Kaposia, Inc.

My journey started three years ago, and it isn’t finished. Fresh out of college, I was hired by Kaposia, Inc., in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Kaposia is a nonprofit organization that progressively focuses on supported employment with real wages and providing opportunities to adults with disabilities through employment and volunteer positions. During the last three years working as an employment direct support professional (DSP) my stereotypes about people with disabilities have been shattered again and again. During these past three years, I have learned some important lessons.

I have learned that DSPs providing employment supports need to know the preferences, skills, likes, and dislikes of each individual being supported. Our role as a DSP is to support a person in  activities that he or she wants to do. It’s not our job to choose for them. Like all of us, people with disabilities have a right to make their own decisions. DSPs are guides, and can help a person see the options available and support them toward success. However, ultimately, the decision of what a person wants to do with their life comes down to the person receiving supports. 

Everyone learns through experiences in life. As a DSP, I believe it is important to encourage the people I support to have new experiences. They may sometimes make a mistake, or try something and fail, but I am there to help the person learn from this experience. This also means that I help an employee understand the responsibilities, rules, and expectations of his or her workplace. Part of employment is to receive feedback from the employer. This may be positive or negative feedback. I support a person to grow from this feedback process, and encourage the person I support to strive to live up to employers’ expectations, within reason. This can be very empowering for the individual, and can influence how the broader community sees people with disabilities working in integrated settings. We all become confident and effective employees and adults through our experiences, both enjoyable and difficult. As a DSP, I don’t know what a person can accomplish until he or she has an opportunity to try.

To successfully provide employment supports, DSPs must truly understand that a person’s disability does not make the person. What a person can accomplish, and the journey that takes the person there, matters most. This quote sticks with me: “Disability doesn’t mean inability; it means you have a circumstance.” Like the people I support, I continue to learn more every day. I believe that if we aren’t learning, then we aren’t being the best that we can be. That goes for DSPs as much as for people who receive direct supports. Each of us always has the chance to grow and be the best we can. 

I don’t know what a person can accomplish until he or she has an opportunity to try.