The title and date of the report, the logos of NADSP and ICI, and part of a page from the report.

More than a quarter of the professionals supporting people with disabilities remain unvaccinated against the coronavirus, a new study shows.

ICI, in partnership with the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NADSP), surveyed 5,400 DSPs and frontline supervisors about their experiences supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) during the COVID-19 pandemic. The newly released survey report is a follow-up to an initial report issued in April 2020. They represent the largest-ever national study of the DSP workforce.

According to the report, 26% of DSPs were unvaccinated. Among those not vaccinated, 54% said they do not feel the vaccine is safe, 21% said they do not believe in the worth of the vaccine, and 22% said they do not feel they need it. 

Nearly 20% of DSPs reported being diagnosed with COVID-19, and 8% were not diagnosed but suspected they had it. Among employers, 93% did not require DSPs to be vaccinated.

Several studies have found that people with IDD are at higher risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes.

“People with IDD are at the greatest risk of any categorical group of becoming sick and dying from COVID-19,” said Amy Hewitt, lead investigator of the study, conducted by ICI’s Research and Training Center on Community Living for Persons with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (RTC-CL) in partnership with NADSP. Hewitt is director of the RTC-CL, and of ICI. “As essential workers, DSPs have an obligation to keep themselves and the people they support healthy and safe, and they deserve wages and benefits commensurate with their skills and level of responsibility.”

Hewitt noted that 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 made staffing even more difficult, increasing stress, expectations, and risk on those who remain in their positions. The report also highlights work and wage disparities for Black/African American workers. And it documents DSPs’ reports of significant depression, behavior issues, and loneliness among the people with disabilities they support.

Read the full report at z.umn.edu/dsp-covid19.