According to the 2018 annual report from the Division of Services for People with Disabilities, 5,917 people with disabilities were receiving services in Utah.
The average age of these individuals is 33-34 years. The services they receive include supported living/personal assistance, in-home supports/respite, residential services, host home, day supports and supported employment.
DSPD also reports there are 177 “traditional provider companies” in the state supporting the majority of these individuals. What DSPD doesn’t report is that at the heart of these 177 companies servicing the majority of those with disabilities are direct support professionals.
A generic definition of direct support professional can be found on various sites including Wikipedia, “… a person who assists an individual with a disability to lead a self-directed life and contribute to the community, assists with activities of daily living and encourages attitudes and behaviors that enhance community inclusion.”
Although this does paint a clear picture of the role of the Direct Support Professional, I prefer the list of “Characteristics of Successful DSP’s” provided by Relias. These characteristics include empathy, compassion, judgment and reliability.
Despite the fact that most direct support professionals are hired at entry level, Relias points out their true value to the people they support, families and their employers, saying “Losing a DSP can have a devastating effect on a person with an intellectual/developmental disability and their family. ... For the individual being served, it can mean the loss of a friend and confidante. For the family, it often creates stress, scheduling difficulties and concern for the well-being of their loved one.”
In my experience, the relationship built between a DSP and the person they support is very difficult to replace when they leave.
Monday through Friday is recognized annually as National Direct Support Professional Recognition Week. Although we should always acknowledge and reinforce the value of these individuals, this is a time to not only remember all of the services they provide but also create an awareness to the community of the ongoing need for this service.
Let me be the first to publicly say thank you to the many direct support professionals throughout our community. Many of whom provide the service while maintaining a full class schedule or working at least one other job. They show up when needed, sometimes when not scheduled, they provide transportation to activities, teach and mentor life skills while ensuring the safety and well-being of the person in their care.
I hope that all service providers, family members and those in the community who see them will acknowledge the great work they are doing.