Frontline Initiative DSPs and Technology

New career options in remote supports


Denise Cady is a Tele-Caregiver DSP at Rest Assured.

Dustin Wright is the HR Director at Rest Assured.

The demand for DSPs is growing much faster than the numbers of people entering the field. According to the latest The State of the States in Developmental Disabilities, published by the University of Colorado, more than 4.6 million people with disabilities in the United States need direct support. The vast majority of these individuals live with their families. Only about 500,000 receive services through government programs. Of the 4 million remaining, more than 700,000 live with family caregivers who are over 60 years old. Tens of thousands are on waiting lists for services. As our population ages, even more DSPs will be needed.  

Some new technology may help to address the DSP shortage. Devices similar to smart phones, for example, can allow greater independence by giving automatic reminders about activities of daily living. Some technologies can take the DSP out of the picture. However, much new technology continues to depend on the human touch. Tele-care is one example of technology that requires skilled and knowledgeable DSPs.  

Remote supports or “tele-care” means in-home supports provided from a distance using technology. In tele-care, a variety of devices are installed in a person’s home. The system is customized to the meet each person’s unique support needs. It links the person to experienced, trained DSPs off-site. To ensure privacy, cameras are only in public areas. Outside those areas, tele-caregiver DSPs get sensor alerts to track specific activities. They can interact with the people they are supporting face-to-face through two-way audio and video devices. They do many things an on-site DSP would do (prompting, reminding, coaching, socializing, etc.). Of course, they cannot do the hands-on support work (bathing, grooming, physical assistance, etc.). When hands-on supports are needed, a back-up DSP is called to make an in-person visit.  

This new technology requires experienced, trained professionals. Like any job, being a tele-caregiver has its positives and negatives. Tele-caregivers enjoy supporting several people at one time. They enjoy seeing the independence a person feels being able to be in his or her own home without a DSP physically present. They like forming relationships with the people they support, even though they may never meet face-to-face. A good tele-caregiver is flexible and can quickly adapt to changes and improvements in the tele-care technology. 

Being a tele-caregiver can also have its drawbacks. Some tele-caregivers report they miss providing hands-on support. They feel frustrated when physical aid is needed and the people receiving support have to wait for back-up direct support staff to arrive. They also feel limited by the tele-care system of cameras and sensors. Bottom line, they miss being in the home with the person they are supporting.

This new model of support also creates a new “DSP on demand” position. These back-up staff must be highly skilled DSPs that have the ability to respond to multiple peoples’ hands-on care needs. They must know about each person they are supporting and be able to respond quickly as needed. 

Technology will never replace people, especially in the human services. But it can be used to help DSPs provide better care. It can also provide more independence and allow more options for people who receive direct support.