The just-launched Frontline Initiative explores the myriad crises that have disrupted the lives and work of professionals who support people with disabilities.

Adapting to the closure of day programs due to the pandemic and supporting people in other disaster situations has highlighted more than ever the depth and range of direct support professionals’ (DSPs) work, co-editors Julie Kramme and Chet Tschetter said.

Frontline Initiative, a publication for and about DSPs, is produced through a partnership between the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NADSP) and the Institute’s Research and Training Center on Community Living.

“When I think about all the situations that the DSPs wrote about for this issue, they are all traumatic events,” Tschetter said. “Not every DSP stuck around, but there are many that can handle these situations and have a deep commitment to the people they support. They had to relearn some skills or pick up some new ones on the fly, and at the same time show a lot of compassion.”

Kelley Shepherd, a community living specialist in Pittsburgh, and Matt Crowley, a community support professional in Brooklyn, New York, co-wrote an article about their experiences supporting people with disabilities during COVID-19. Shepherd and Crowley serve on an advisory board for NADSP.

While there were many challenges, Shepherd shared how she got to know the people she supports on a much deeper level during the lockdown.

“I had been spending most of my day driving and rushing around doing errands, so it became a much richer experience to plan activities and really interact,” she said. 

Matthew had a similar view, writing that the people he supports grew closer to each other as well during the pandemic.

“I hope my fellow DSPs see something in my experience that correlates with their own,” he said. “The pandemic has in obvious ways isolated us, so this sharing of experience is timely and can connect us.”

Matt and Kelley’s sense of hope in the face of adversity showed a new dimension and level of trust in DSPs’ relationships with the people they support, Kramme noted.

“It was also interesting that some DSPs noted an increased level of determination and decision-making power in the people these professionals support,” she said. “Others, of course, were in really dire circumstances due to the pandemic or they had to relocate because of wildfires or other hazardous conditions. DSPs had to think on their feet, respond quickly, and maintain the dignity and decision-making authority of the people they support.”