The cover of this issue of Frontline Initiative, showing a young man with a disability walking down a city street with his DSP. Both are smiling.

They are paid like fast-food workers, perform duties comparable to highly-trained health professionals, and are asked to coach and inspire people to take on active roles in their communities.

Frontline Initiative: Making a Career in Direct Support, published in September, explores what keeps direct support professionals (DSPs) working in the field and illuminates the shift from thinking about the work as a job to considering it a career.

FI editors Julie Kramme and Chet Tschetter see the issue as a call to action to DSPs to lift their voices about the low pay, low visibility, and low respect they endure. It features personal reflections from DSPs themselves, calls for professional credentials, and practical tips.

“This edition has about twice as many articles as usual, and that is because of the enthusiasm regarding the topic,” Tschetter said. “Authors include DSPs, self-advocates, family members of people who accept support, and professionals in the field.”

The issue provides DSPs with clear guidance on how to tell their story, Kramme said, and is a call to action to have their voices heard.

“We really hope that this issue is a helpful tool for DSPs that shares the career experiences, continued education, and training that DSPs are using to build a solid career foundation,” she said.

Among other authors in the issue, Skylar Smith shares why she got into the profession in South Dakota, and how she tries to educate as many people as she can about the rewards.

“I want others to see that my job is important. I want them to understand the rights of the people we support. I aim to gently broaden people’s perspectives,” she writes. “They don’t know what I know about people with disabilities: that when they receive high-quality support, so many things are possible.”

Another article, by Joseph M. Macbeth, president and chief executive officer of the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals, explains the ongoing effort to establish a professional standard occupational code. The NADSP has an online petition via change.org calling for such a classification.

Macbeth also calls for more support for DSPs working through the pandemic.

“DSPs are tired, frustrated, and traumatized. Now, more than ever before, they need attention, support, and relief,” he writes. “If anything, COVID-19 has lifted the veil on a decades-long systemic failure to support the most important resource in the disability services sector—the director support workforce—that has been neglected for far too long.”