Today, hundreds of individuals with disabilities, family members, direct-support professionals and other service
providers will descend upon the capital in Denver.
There legislators from both sides of the aisle will host these visitors and officially proclaim Feb. 17 as Awareness
Day for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities.
Participating in this event will be representatives from Community Connections Inc., the Community-Centered Board for
individuals with developmental disabilities in Southwest Colorado, and Alliance, a Colorado professional organization
representing thousands of direct-support professionals across the state. The crucial issue at hand for 2010 is the
alarming shortage of direct-support professionals to provide essential services for individuals with disabilities.
One person representing CCI will be Lisa Vasquez, a direct-support professional at the Durango-based Holly House and a
nominee for the statewide DSP of the Year Award.
For Vasquez, it's not about the money. It's about seeing people being able to do something today that they weren't
able to do for themselves yesterday."
However, the crisis for DSPs is about the money. The job can be emotionally and physically tasking, yet nationwide,DSPs make only 55 percent of the national average in wages. This creates staggering turnover and a workforce of DSPs
living in poverty or at low-income levels.
The local situation is similar. While the intrinsic benefits are great, many DSPs find that they cannot support
themselves and their family on the wages offered, especially in the high cost-of-living communities in our area.
For people with developmental disabilities, their DSPs can be some of the most important people in their lives. Often,DSPs are the ones who ensure a person's bills are paid, shopping is done and meals are prepared. DSPs help get people
out in the community to jobs. In some cases, DSPs are taking care of the most basic of needs, including bathing,feeding and toileting. A good, caring direct-support professional is not only important to quality of life but to life
Tara Kiene is the director of case management with Community Connections Inc.