The cover of the latest Frontline Initiative showing a person walking in a park with their DSP. Both are masked.

The new issue of Frontline Initiative shares stories by and for direct support professionals (DSPs) as they navigate longer hours, inadequate pay, grief stemming from the death of colleagues, and other fallout from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Already in crisis before the pandemic hit in 2020 due to high turnover and staffing shortages, the DSP workforce has been rocked by the pandemic. One FI article reports on a series of three national surveys, completed by more than 18,000 respondents, that show many are working substantially more hours than they did before the pandemic, and more than half indicated their work life had gotten worse or much worse. The study also revealed that Black/African American DSPs were paid less per hour than white DSPs.

Other articles provide public health information on keeping DSPs, their families, and the people they support safe as the pandemic marches on. Frontline Initiative, a publication for and about DSPs, is produced through a partnership between the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals and the Institute’s Research and Training Center on Community Living.

“We know there is a lot of misinformation about vaccines causing doubt in people’s minds, so we wanted to provide some clear information and resources,” said ICI’s Julie Kramme, co-editor of Frontline Initiative.

Beyond the basic facts, the issue emphasizes the why behind the vaccination message.  

“We wanted to make it very personal,” said co-editor Chet Tschetter. “The reason many DSPs are doing this work is because they really care about the people they are working with, so we wanted to bring self-advocates into the issue to weave that relationship into the discussion.”

In a first for the publication, DSP Kiley Brennan provided editorial support as a guest editor. A DSP guest editor will be hired for future issues of Frontline Initiative to provide their perspective and expertise. More information will be available when this opportunity is posted at z.umn.edu/frontlineinitiative. 

“I wanted to serve as a guest editor for FI because it seemed like a perfect platform for DSPs to spread awareness and bring attention to topics begging to be heard in the DSP workforce,” Brennan said. “I really loved the array of voices and perspectives of this issue, and I hope DSPs take away the fact that they are not alone in their struggles and concerns. Recognition of our profession means recognition, funding, better services, and better outreach for the individuals we serve.” 

“Kiley has helped us make sure that the articles are authentic to the DSP experience,” Tschetter said.  

Some articles in the issue are accompanied by videos, including one by BJ Stasio of Buffalo, New York, who shares that he sleeps in his wheelchair because of the staffing shortage in the DSP profession. 

“Without their help, we don’t live the lives we want, and it’s easy to become isolated,” Stasio writes in his article. “I think the reason we should all be vaccinated is because it makes our communities better and stronger. It enriches the community when people with disabilities are present instead of being invisible at home. Without the help of DSPs, that doesn’t happen.”