It is easy to forget the Labor Day holiday isn't about lakes and bikes and time off from work.
This is our time to reflect on the millions of American workers who keep our country running every day. We also can honor a segment of our working population that goes unnoticed by most residents. I refer to the 464,000 Direct Support Professionals around the country who provide support to individuals with disabilities.
These Direct Support Professionals have not gone unnoticed by our national leaders. The U.S. Senate has passed a resolution naming the week starting Monday as National Direct Support Professionals Week. This week is set aside in order to shine a national light on the dedication and importance of DSPs. Colorado is one of seven states that have joined in recognizing National DSP Week.
DSPs work with individuals with disabilities and seniors in residential settings and private homes, helping to assure people who are unable to live independently still are able to live healthy and fulfilling lives in their communities. DSPs provide this support through helping individuals with their personal hygiene, home cleaning, cooking, shopping and getting around the community. In addition, DSPs often serve as mentors and teachers, helping people with cognitive impairments learn better social skills, get community jobs and increase their independence.
The work of a DSP can take patience and creativity to figure out ways to teach skills to someone who doesn't learn in typical ways. There may be physical labor involved in lifting and transferring a person in a wheelchair or bathing and assisting with toileting.
Because most DSPs work in programs supported by Medicaid, inadequate funding keeps the wages low. Nationwide, the average hourly wage for a DSP is $9.85 per hour (compared to $18.00 overall for workers in nonsupervisor positions).
Still, people who work as DSPs often are highly committed to the job, in spite of the pay. For more than 11 years, Benay Stein has worked as a DSP with Community Connections, the local agency that serves individuals with disabilities and employs more than a hundred DSPs. She acknowledges the pay is not what attracted her to the job.
"It's personally fulfilling," Stein said. "I love the clients (individuals with developmental disabilities), and we have a lot of fun. There's the flexibility within the day to do many different things in the community."
Yet Community Connections is like many agencies nationwide in its struggle to keep enough DSPs to provide services. The average turnover is 50 percent in the industry, and the number of DSPs entering the field is not keeping up with the increasing number of individuals who need their skills and dedication.
With this in mind, take the time to remember the Direct Support Professionals who are bringing dignity to the lives of millions of individuals of every day.
For more information about DSP's or how to become one, call Community Connections at 970-259-2464, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tara Kiene is the director of case management for Community Connections.