Impact Feature Issue on Stories of Advocacy, Stories of Change from People with Disabilities, Their Families, and Allies (1988-2013)

They Are Still Working for Me (Part 2, 2013)


John Smith is a Program Coordinator at the Institute on Community Integration. Photo by Rowina Kollie Design & Photography.

John Smith continues to grow in confidence as a supervisor of his DSPs. And he faces new challenges.

In the six years since writing “They Work for Me” most things have not changed. Most importantly, my DSPs continue to be valued colleagues whose help is vital for me to be an active member of my community. I marvel at, and greatly appreciate, their longevity as they stay with part-time jobs that feature short shifts for three and four years at a time. My confidence as a supervisor has grown, and I have learned the benefits of having fewer DSPs who work more shifts.

On the now somewhat rare occasion when I need to bring on a new person, I realize the luxury I have in DSPs that stick around awhile. They afford me the chance to exercise self-determination without constantly needing to explain my preferences since seasoned DSPs know my routine, and can make adaptations without much supervision as new situations arise. A strategy I use is asking new hires to shadow each of my seasoned DSPs before working alone. It is great to have DSPs who know me well and I can trust. Besides offering a competitive wage, my retention strategy continues to be grounding our relationships in a spirit of mutual respect, patience, and flexibility.

Looking forward, I wonder and worry about how I will continue to recruit and retain quality DSPs to assist me in the coming years. As my fellow baby-boomers age and need assistance, I know the demand for DSPs is bound to increase greatly while the labor pool from which they come will decrease. I am sometimes troubled by the fact that my DSPs are not treated as the professionals they are when it comes to pay and benefits. That seems unjust to me, and I wonder how long it can go on.

My fears are exacerbated due to an inheritance I recently received. It meant I needed to leave the Medicaid program I had been on and once again pay for many of my supports out of pocket. That reality forced me to carefully evaluate all of my services and immediately eliminate anything I did not absolutely need. One support that proved to be untouchable was the six to eight hours of DSP support I rely on each day; they are essential for me to maintain not only my health, but my employment and place in the community. I recall trying to cut back on the number of DSP hours I had been using under Medicaid, but I found it was not possible, nor was the thought of reducing my DSP’s wages to save some of my own money. These are seemingly obvious lessons that I plan to share with policymakers as they consider balancing budgets by cutting back on resources going to support a high quality DSP workforce.