Direct Support Workforce and COVID-19 National Report: Six-Month Follow-up

Report title with logos of ICI and NADSP.

The Institute on Community Integration’s Research and Training Center on Community Living for Persons with intellectual and Developmental Disabilities at the University of Minnesota, in partnership with the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals, conducted a survey of approximately 9,000 direct support professionals (DSPs) from across the country about their experiences supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) during the COVID-19 pandemic. DSPs are interdisciplinary professionals who provide complex and essential supports to individuals with IDD, making community inclusion a reality. This is a six-month follow-up report to the initial report completed in April 2020 and is the largest study conducted on the direct support workforce.

Key findings include:

  • Nearly half (47%) said they had been exposed to COVID-19 at work and their exposure was higher in congregate facilities than in individual or family homes.
  • 97% of workers self-identified as essential workers, but only 30% received salary augmentations.
  • Black/African American DSPs were paid less per hour than white DSPs, and a higher percentage of Black/African American DSPs worked 40 or more additional hours per week.

The direct support workforce has been overlooked and in crisis for years, with high turnover and vacancy rates, low wages, and lack of access to affordable benefits. More than half of DSPs receive government funded assistance such as housing, energy, food, and healthcare. The pandemic has made staffing more difficult and increased the stress, expectations, and risk on those who remain in their positions. More than half (54%) indicated their work life is getting worse. DSPs also reported that a significant number of the people with disabilities they supported experienced depression, behavior issues, and loneliness.

“These findings underscore a number of systemic problems regarding the direct support workforce that provides services and supports  for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. These cannot be ignored any longer. Policy makers at the federal and state levels must take action, now,” said Dr. Amy Hewitt, director of the Institute on Community Integration’s Research and Training Center on Community Living and a lead investigator on the study. “High turnover, high vacancies, and low wages have devastating effects on these professionals and subsequently on people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. And the equity issues identified for Black/African American DSPs with regard to wage equity must be further explored and resolved.”

Read the full report, a short version, and select state-specific versions at Please contact Jerry Smith with questions. 

About the RTC-CL and NADSP

The Research and Training Center on Community Living for Persons with intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (RTC-CL) has operated at the University of Minnesota since 1976. During this time, it has made many substantial contributions that have positively affected the field and the lives of people with disabilities by developing effective, research-based interventions and creating new knowledge that has influenced practices and policies for increasing community living and participation for people with disabilities. The RTC-CL is housed within the Institute on Community Integration, a department within the University of Minnesota’s College of the Education and Human Development, and funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In 1996, the National Alliance for Direct Support Professional’s ideological founder, John F. Kennedy Jr., wrote "Quality is defined at the point of interaction between the staff member and the individual with a disability.” Given this, NADSP’s mission is to enhance the quality of support provided to people with disabilities through the provision of products, services, and certifications which elevate the status of direct support workers, improve practice standards, promote systems reform and, most importantly, advance the knowledge, skills, and values of direct support workers. For more information, please visit .