I am the communications director for an organization that provides supports for people with disabilities. One of the biggest challenges to my communication work is referring to the people we support in the written and spoken word. Many of my efforts are directed to the general public—not people who work in the same field I do—and the vocabulary of our field often leaves them confused.


         Over the years, as most of you are aware, there have been different terms used to describe the people who receive supports from our organization. Many, many years ago, words that were initially used as descriptive terms came to be seen as hurtful and disrespectful. Most people are surprised to hear that terms like “Feeble-minded,” “Moron,” and “Idiot,” were not vocabulary designed for insults but to describe people with disabilities. Later “Mental Retardation,” was used clinically and from that the shortened and derisive term “retard” originated. 


       The term “Client” evolved as a more respectful choice and was later replaced with the term “Consumer.” Consumer was preferred because a “consumer” chooses services and supports and therefore it was believed it connoted power and respect. Over time, some would argue that the term “consumer” merely became yet another label.


        The term “Developmental Disability” is preferred by many, but in 2013, the Social Security Administration officially replaced that with “Intellectual Disability.” Many argue that “Intellectual Disability” is unclear because by definition it would apply to people with Alzheimers Disease, Mental Illness and Traumatic Brian Injuries.

What is a Direct Support Professional? What is a DSP? What is #DSPStrong all about?

The formal definition is easy. A direct support professional is a human service professional who provides supports to people with disabilities so that they can maximize their independence, productivity and fulfillment in life.

Nice language, right? But what really IS a DSP?

If you don't have a child with a disability, I'd like you to think for a moment what it would be like. Think of what you'd worry about. Would it be your child's safety? Would it be your child's future? Would it be your child's happiness and sense of fulfillment? Would it be your own fears about whether you could cope?

I suspect it would be all of those things. The other thing to consider is that people don't grow out of developmental disabilities and autism. They are for life. So part of your fears as a parent would be the constant worry about what will happen to your child when you are gone.

And if you were a person with a disability, what would you worry about? Would it be your safety? Would it be who would be there for you? Would it be your future? I suspect it would be all of these things.

Direct Support Professionals are the people we entrust with the care of individuals with disabilities. Whether it is a young child or an adult, DSPs support people as they navigate life with a disability. Sometimes, particularly in residential settings, that's 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Sometimes it means being with someone with challenging behavioral issues, sometimes it means being with someone with constant obsessive thoughts or fears and often it means taking care of someone with hygiene and toileting issues.

It is a demanding position. It is a position that pays less than fast food jobs.

I mean no disrespect for people who work in the fast food industry, but DSPs are responsible for individuals LIVES all day long.

For this chosen career they make about $10.50 an hour.

It takes commitment. It takes dedication. It takes patience. Above all, it takes strength, the kind of internal strength that is powered by caring for others.

Next week we celebrate our DSPs and with everything we are doing in that celebration we are including #DSPStrong to note what we think of these professionals. Please join us in supporting the people who have committed to this work in their life. And please join us in supporting funding to increase their salaries to livable wages.



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