June 2022
Graphic illustrating the COVID-19 24-month follow-up survey of DSPs. The graphic includes the logos of ICI and NADSP.

Two years after creating the largest survey to date of direct support professionals, the Institute on Community Integration and the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals recently launched an expanded survey that will explore how technology has changed the field during the pandemic. 

The new survey also asks DSPs and supervisors about their hours worked, changes to their wages, how their mental health has been affected by the pandemic, and whether the daily routines of the people they support are getting back to pre-pandemic levels, among other questions. This is the fourth survey in a series that has uncovered racial disparities in DSP wages and hours, revealed DSPs having to pay out of pocket for their own protective equipment, and documented the impact of the pandemic on staff turnover rates that were already at crisis levels. 

“The ramifications of COVID-19 on the direct support workforce are not over and are still causing havoc for people with disabilities and community service providers,” said ICI Director Amy Hewitt. “Our stakeholders and advisers have been using our survey data in their policy advocacy, and they wanted more.” 

By taking the survey, DSPs can play a direct role in shaping public policy and bringing attention to the dire need for better pay and working conditions in the field, Hewitt said. “The strong response rates to our previous surveys indicate that these professionals want to be heard.” 

Designing the survey with ICI’s national partners within the Research and Training Center on Community Living revealed a desire to not only compare the effects of the pandemic on the profession over time, but to also explore what’s different today, said Sandra Pettingell, an ICI research associate with more than 20 years of experience in large-scale, longitudinal data sets.  

“As we consulted our partners, the question of technology came up. When you think about the pandemic, everything moved online, so we wanted to look at how that affected the work that DSPs do,” Pettingell said. “We wondered specifically what kinds of technology people with disabilities are using, whether DSPs are comfortable with it themselves, and what happens if it breaks?” 

Hesitancy about the COVID-19 vaccine is also covered on the survey, she said.  

“When we asked about that last time, vaccine mandates were just starting, so it will be interesting to see what the vaccination rates are now.” 

About 10,000 direct support workers participated in the initial survey in 2020. In addition to the survey, ICI has produced public service announcements urging DSPs to get vaccinated to protect themselves and those they support. The PSA series, It’s Up to You, was also created with several partners, including NADSP.