April 2024

The cover of Frontline Initiative, 20(1), which covers advocacy and voting. An older Black man in overalls holds a yellow sign that reads "Nothing about us without us." Behind him is a brightly-colored mural of a Black woman's face. In the foreground are the magazine's title and the logos of Frontline Initiative's co-publishers: ICI and the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals.

The new issue of Frontline Initiative urges direct support professionals to speak up for themselves with elected officials, to exercise their voting rights, and to help the people they support do that, too.

“For too long, DSPs have relied on the provider organizations to advocate for them, and this hasn’t been effective,” said Julie Kramme, co-editor of FI, a digital newsletter that is co-published by the Institute on Community Integration and the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals. “We wanted to dedicate an entire issue to the practical strategies DSPs can use to make their voices heard.”

The Advocacy and Voting issue sets the stage for the NADSP Advocacy Symposium April 30 and May 1 , when DSPs from around the country will meet virtually with Congressional leaders and staff about establishing a Standard Occupational Classification for their profession and about other legislative priorities.

In the new issue, ICI Director Amy Hewitt provides practical steps DSPs can take to share their stories with elected officials, media, and other community members, from “making the ask” to using hope to motivate people to act.

“If you look at just about every profession in this country, especially professions that employ primarily females, it took workers advocating for themselves to create needed change in their profession,” Hewitt writes. “As a DSP, you provide critical support that allows people with disabilities and their family members to work and be valued members of their communities.”

As advocates tell these stories, it’s important to use language that respects the human dignity of the people DSPs support, writes John Raffaele, NADSP’s director of educational services.

“We may provide physical or emotional supports, but we are not in this profession to change or cure anyone,” Raffaele writes. “Ours is a profession of advocacy, justice, and partnership.”

The subject of language goes beyond a few outdated terms or talking about disability from a medical model, he writes.

“Consider a phrase that is common in the world of direct support – ‘I love my guys.’ Although this may sound endearing, it is ultimately harmful and offensive.”

Elsewhere in the issue, DSP Megan Russell of Lexington, Kentucky, shares her own experience advocating at last year’s NADSP Advocacy Symposium, when she told officials how medical debt piled up from a health issue she faced because she couldn’t afford strong health insurance. The experience made her realize she, and others, need to share these stories.

“I want to do what it takes to help the person I support live a good life,” she writes. “This includes banding together with other professionals to talk about issues and problems that need to be improved.”

This issue also includes a video interview with Sumer Spika, a personal care attendant and organizer with SEIU Healthcare Minnesota & Iowa, who talks about joining together as a workforce to advocate for better benefits, wages, and training.

“I knew we had to do something to change what PCAs were getting paid,” Spika says on the video. As a result of advocacy with other professionals, wages and access to paid training have increased dramatically. Spika and others are now focusing on access to benefits.

Along with the newsletter, new podcast episodes of A Closer Look are available now and include interviews with FI authors Hewitt and Russell by host Chet Tschetter. Listeners can set up an alert to be notified about upcoming episodes wherever they get their podcasts.

“Amy and Megan share their own experiences of speaking up in very practical terms,” said Tschetter, FI co-editor. “Many people are intimidated when they think about talking to their elected officials, and Amy and Megan felt that, too. They offer tips on how to overcome that feeling by talking about how low wages and lack of affordable healthcare affect DSPs every day.”

Tschetter said she’s hopeful for a large turnout of DSPs for the NADSP event, and that the FI issue reinforces attendees’ experience and offers new tools for those who cannot attend.

“This issue is probably the most important issue we have ever done,” Tschetter said. “It gives DSPs the tools to know what they can do on their own and to encourage their fellow DSPs to do the same.”