Frontline Initiative DSPs and Technology

Providing the right amount of support


Lisa Burck is the President of the NADSP Board of Directors, and Project Director at the Arc of Mississippi.

More and more, direct support professionals (DSPs) are not leaving technology at the door when they go to work. Likewise, the people that we support are using technology to enhance and promote independence and self-determination. 

The success or failure of technology for people who have a disability depends highly on direct support professionals. On the surface it may seem that advances in technology could reduce or replace the need for direct support. I believe nothing could be further from the truth. As people gather to help individuals plan for their lives, the most important question is always “Who will do this?” Plans aren’t anything more than words on a paper. Likewise, technology isn’t anything but a tool. Plans are brought to life and tools have value through the hands of a DSP. 

I recently saw a video about a day in the life of a man who uses a lot of technology. His house reminded him to turn off the stove, let him know if the door is locked, or told his dog to get off the bed. His family and others were able to communicate with him by video email. His smart phone guided him through the bus routes. His bank made funds available through voice and thumbprint. The DSPs who support him realize that these tools enhance his self-determination and quality of life. They program the technology; they are the people he calls for help; they provide the assurance and assistance. They have a necessary role in his life. 

As DSPs, we don’t need to safeguard jobs. Believe me, there is plenty of work for everyone! Ongoing staffing shortages and continued movement to community-based services means that our jobs may look a little different, but the need will always be there. When was the last time you had two days in a row that looked the same?

We know how hard it can be to provide enough support, but Dr. John Agosta from the Human Services Research Institute also warns against “over-supporting” people. Give people what they need, no more and no less. Our job in direct support is determining just how much support people need and what that support looks like.