Direct Support Professionals, We Need Your Stories to Highlight Your Impact

/ September 15, 2020

By Janet Shouse

Are you a direct support professional who enjoys your job? Are you a person with a disability who has a direct support person who makes your day brighter and more fun? Are you a family member who relies on an active and engaged direct support professional to help your loved one with a disability to work, play and thrive in his or her community? Are there challenges to working as a direct support professional that people might not be aware of?

One of my friends at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, Courtney Taylor, would like to hear from you, if you’re a direct support professional, or if you’re connected with a DSP, encourage them to contact Courtney. She can be reached at

Courtney coordinates a project called Kindred Stories of Disability. The goal of Kindred Stories is to share personal stories of disability-related issues with legislators and policymakers and to help improve services and supports across Tennessee. In previous years, Kindred Stories have looked at employment of people with disabilities, access to health care, services in rural areas of Tennessee and civic engagement. This year’s focus is on direct support professionals, to learn more about the value and impact their work has in the lives of adults with disabilities. We know personal stories are meaningful and can have a lasting impact on lawmakers and policymakers.

For those of you who may not know what a direct support professional is, DSPs, according to a definition from, assist individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They help with everyday tasks such as housekeeping, meal preparation, attending appointments and running errands. Depending on the person’s needs, DSPs may also administer medications, implement a behavioral management plan and maintain medical records.

They may also:

  • Teach life skills
  • Maintain a safe living environment that meets state codes and regulations
  • Provide crisis intervention
  • Provide on-the-job supports
  • Assist individuals with money management, personal hygiene and other routine needs
  • Provide transportation to social outings, doctor’s appointments, religious services, employment and other activities
  • Maintain regular paperwork including fiscal reports, behavioral assessments, medication logs, casework notes and daily activity logs

DSPs typically assist individuals who receive Medicaid waiver services, either through the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities waivers or through the Employment and Community First CHOICES waiver program.

Courtney and her team want to hear your personal stories about:

  • How you became a direct support professional
  • What your day looks like—day to day or night to night
  • The importance and impact of your work
  • How your view of people with disabilities has changed, if it’s changed
  • Do you feel valued?
  • What would you like for legislators and policymakers know about your job as a DSP?

If you are willing to be interviewed, you would commit to:

  • A one-hour conversation in October using Zoom technology with a Vanderbilt University student
  • Answer some questions that will be shared with you before the interview

If you are willing to have your photo appear with your interview, there’s an optional (Zoom) photo shoot, in which young photographers with disabilities would take your photo and help them gain experience with using photography for advocacy.

You will have the chance to read over your story/interview to make any needed revisions. Also, if you would prefer to share your story but remain anonymous, you can do that as well.

If you are interested in sharing stories about your work and your role in the lives of the people you assist, please contact Courtney by Sept. 24, 2020.

Kindred Stories is a collaborative project of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, The Arc Tennessee, and AbleVoices.

For more information about direct support professionals and the work that they do, I would encourage readers to check out the National Association of Direct Support Professionals, Another group that offers information and advocacy opportunities for DSPs and others is the American Network of Community Options and Resources,  

Thank you for reading. If you have questions, please contact me at

Janet Shouse smilingJanet Shouse is a parent of a young adult with autism, and she is passionate about inclusion, employment of people with disabilities, medical issues related to developmental disabilities, supports and services, public policy, legislative initiatives, advocacy, and the intersection of faith and disability. She wears many hats at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, including one as a disability employment specialist for TennesseeWorks.

Our hope is that this weekly blog will offer information you want to know, so if you have a question you want answered about employment for people with disabilities or other mysteries of the world of work, please email me at

September 15, 2020

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