Back in 2004 a satirical mockumentary debuted that sought to look at the potentially catastrophic results to the California economy if a certain population (workforce) were to disappear for a day. Because of that movie I have often wondered (certainly not through a satirical lense) what the impact to our economy, let alone day-to-day life, would be if we lost our Direct Support Professional workforce even for a day.
How many people would go unsupported? How many jobs would be impacted? How many people would experience harm? How many families would have their lives upended? What is the actual cost? All of those questions are nearly impossible to answer with accuracy but what the questions show is the critical role of DSPs and the catastrophic consequences of not having a stable DSP workforce.
What does a DSP actually do? WHATEVER IT TAKES to assist the person they work with to realize their full potential! The responsibilities vary from person to person but often include a wide range of supports related to basic needs (bathing, eating, medications), employment (obtaining and coaching), shopping, finances, building relationships with peers, learning transportation systems, health advocacy, social support, emotional support, crisis management, household management, education, cooking… Just to name a few. Throughout the process of supporting the individual DSPs and their clients build trust and often friendships that go far beyond just “supporting” the person. As you can see the job of a DSP is very complex and can be the lifeline to the person they support.
In California we know there are over 330,000 people with an intellectual or developmental disability and while every single person may not need the support of a DSP it is likely the majority do or will at some point need a DSP. When you think about how many people would go unsupported you must think about what support means in the first place.
The obvious answer is that support means something different for each individual. For one person it may be physical support such as getting from one’s bed to their wheelchair while for another it may be administering medication or support learning a new bus route to get to work. The impact on employment overall would be far reaching as it is an entire workforce that supports several other industries and sectors of employment. Parents and family members are unable to go to work if they don’t have support for their loved one. Individuals with I/DD who have jobs but need support before, during or after their workday would not be able to go to work. The loss of employment is in all these situations would have a significant impact on the economy.
How much could the potential “harms” cost? Medication errors, falls, hunger, consequences of complex behaviors… Those are just a few of the quantifiable harms that would occur. Of course, less quantifiable, but just as significant, is the social-emotional distress or mental health issues that would occur as people become less and less able to access the community.
We have promised (codified in legislation) people with I/DD a life in the community and that they have the same basic legal, civil and human rights as other citizens. These rights are fundamental and are to be protected.
A full life in the community means something different to everyone and is in large part dependent upon the work of the DSP. We as a society ask A LOT of our DSP workforce but when it comes to our policy priorities it is sad to say but we don’t really place a HIGH VALUE on the work they do, as evidenced by the low wages they receive.
A livable wage for DSPs is a policy priority that should be recognized as such at the state and federal levels. The reality is that it is an absolutely terrifying thought to imagine even a day without a DSP because our system, our community, our families and above all individuals with I/DD would be in dire straits without DSPs. Much RESPECT to all the DSPs out there. PLEASE keep doing what you are doing!