2021 DSP Reflections from the Frontline
In 2021, the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NADSP) announced that it would be conducting a comprehensive campaign across the country to address COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among direct support professionals (DSPs). This initiative is part of a cooperative agreement with the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD), funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
During this year-long campaign, NADSP is launching a variety of outreach activities including fact sheets, blogs, podcasts, and public service announcements (PSAs). NADSP asked Ramu Iyer, Job Coach and member of the NADSP Advisory Council to reflect about providing direct support and employment supports during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
As 2021 winds to a close I would like to look back and share my personal reflections.
In my role as a Direct Support Professional (DSP) I have been fortunate to serve on the frontlines and be part of the lives of persons with disabilities. 2021 has been a tumultuous year with highs and lows. A subset of people who I support were either furloughed or laid off by businesses impacted by the pandemic. These individuals chose to stay safe at home until recalled back to work or had found new jobs. Over time they started to feel anxious and feel socially isolated. To stay connected with them and enhance their emotional well-being I learned to provide remote support using Zoom, Google Meet, and text messages. I also collaborated with employers to tailor job functions, where possible, that would enable a participant to upskill and work remotely.
Ensuring quality of services between a DSP and person with disabilities in a liminal space is a labor of love. It also provided me a unique opportunity to practice how to provide psychological safety. I learned not to assume stability or take things for granted since the everyday experiences for each person poses different challenges and require different strength-based interventions.
I learned the detailed COVID-19 operating models for different businesses in various industries. This immersion went beyond the information posted in the employer’s website. The informal watercooler conversations in the employee breakroom in the retail store shed more light about how frontline workers were coping with the strain and stress imposed by the pandemic. I taught my participants how to wear a mask and maintain social distancing during their work shifts.
I shifted spaces to become deliberately developmental by sensitively focusing on the lived experiences of the people I support. I had conversations with the people I support to listen to their personal stories and how they are staying hopeful and finding meaning in the pandemic. These narratives served as a backdrop and helped me become more “Ability Aware” — i.e., by imagining new possibilities, appreciating life, and relating to others, discovering strengths, and building solutions for each person in my caseload. These interactions were life changing and enhanced my post-traumatic growth. It has made me feel like it has taken me a lifetime to discover what is important and what is not. As a DSP I hope to continue to grow, personally and professionally, by fostering positive emotions, psychological flexibility, optimism, hope and agency among the persons I support.