September 2022

People with disabilities aren’t all the same, and neither are those who support them.

The latest edition of Frontline Initiative celebrates lesser-heard voices among direct support professionals. The issue — now also available in Spanish — features authors who are DSPs from diverse ethnic, racial, cultural, and other backgrounds.

“This issue was intended to start needed conversations,” FI co-editor Julie Kramme said in a video introduction to the issue. “It’s about listening, and broadening our understanding.”

Kramme, along with ICI researchers Julie Bershadsky and Sandy Pettingell, wrote an article in the issue that details the Institute’s studies, in partnership with the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals, that found racial disparities in DSP wages. The study also asked about working hours and conditions at critical points during the pandemic.

Other authors include Karen DeBartolo, a DSP who is deaf and who supports someone who is also deaf.

“I felt honored to be part of the issue,” DeBartolo said. “[I wanted to paint] the real picture of working as a DSP, not making it sound like our job is easy and a bed of flowers. People will read that article and they will know what a DSP stands for and how hard our jobs are.”

In another article, authors Nicole Dama and John Raffaele highlighted recent webinars about systemic racism, demographics of the DSP workforce and the implications during COVID-19, and practical steps and conversations about race in relation to the DSP field.

In A Church Home for Willie, author John Swisher writes about his months-long effort to find a church that was a good fit for the person he supported.

That interplay between honoring the culture and background of both a DSP and the person receiving support was a strong theme of the issue, Kramme said. It isn’t about trying to bring a blank slate to work, but about bringing who you are to the relationship and understanding how that affects the professional relationship.

“This issue was really years in the making,” Kramme said. “The first time we started asking DSPs about what they wanted to address, there were people mentioning the importance of intercultural supports. Many DSPs speak languages and have cultural practices that differ from those of the people they support. These can be both barriers and facilitators to high-quality supports.”

Co-editor Chet Tschetter agreed, and both editors made it clear there are still many more articles to tackle on the subject.

“We feel like we’ve only touched the surface,” Tschetter said. “With everything that’s been going on in our society, we wanted to bring to light the rich diversity of the people working in this field. There are a lot more stories to tell, and we’re hoping people will feel comfortable telling them in future issues. This issue is a door-opener, so we can keep going deeper.”