This week is Advocacy Week at ANCOR, our national trade association that represents more than 1,400 community providers of services to people with disabilities. We are joining them in bringing much-needed attention to the issues that are facing the human services industry today – most notably, the workforce crisis in disability supports.
It is important to us to highlight the good work being done by the professionals in our industry every day – yet high turnover rate is destabilizing critical supports for individuals with disabilities. Recruitment and retention challenges are leaving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities vulnerable to losing support in the most important aspects of their lives – work, home and health.
Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) are the lifeline of the industry. They are frontline staff who are providing emotional support, facilitating recreational opportunities, teaching essential life skills, administering medical interventions, communicating with healthcare providers and families, and offering the support required for folks with disabilities to live as independently as possible.
These professionals, funded primarily through Medicaid, help people live life like everyone else. They accomplish this through job coaching, supporting daily activities like grocery shopping or transportation, and by offering critical care for behavioral needs such as helping someone through an anxiety attack.
Despite all this, difficulties attracting and retaining DSPs have reached a crisis level:
- The national DSP turnover rate is 45%
- 55% of DSPs who leave their positions do so within their first year on the job
- Low wages and minimal benefits caused by fixed Medicaid rates are significant reasons for this turnover, although there are many other contributing factors
Lacking a stable workforce not only harms individuals with disabilities and their families, but also can lead to increased institutionalization and high costs to states and federal government. Support from Direct Support Professionals helps people with disabilities live independently or with their families or peers rather than in costlier state-run institutions.
Join in the advocacy efforts by reaching out to your members of Congress!
For more information about ANCOR, click here.
This March marks the 28th anniversary of Developmental Disability Awareness Month. The National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities defines the goal of this annual campaign as “creating awareness about developmental disabilities, teaching the importance of inclusion within every aspect of life, and to sharing the stories of individuals with a disability to show that a successful life is possible”. The campaign focuses on education, employment, and community living for individuals with intellectual disabilities.
In honor of Developmental Disability Awareness Month, we are sharing stories of inclusion all around us. Here are some great examples of how our society is creating a more inclusive environment and bringing awareness to individuals with disabilities in our communities.
- Disabilities in television and film – popular television shows such as have featured people with disabilities increasingly in the past several years. Lauren Potter had a major role in Glee, Luke Zimmerman was cast in The Secret Life of the American Teenager, Jamie Brewer starred in two seasons of American Horror Story, and J. Mitte portrayed Walter White’s son in the wildly popular series Breaking Bad. Several new shows have been addressing disability issues and putting disabled characters at the center of the story, such as ABC’s Speechless, which features a high school student with cerebral palsy and Netflix’s Atypical, which tells the coming-of-age story about an 18-year-old with autism. For more information about this topic, check out the article TV Depictions of Disability Have Come a Long Way on Buzzfeed.
- Apple is introducing inclusive emojis! The technology company has been praised for inclusion when it comes to skin tone and sexual orientation – now the folks at Apple have submitted a proposal for new accessibility emoji that will include service dogs, people using both manual and mechanical wheelchairs, people using canes, an ear with a hearing aid, and prosthetics.
- Adaptive clothing is catching on – popular and affordable brands like Cat & Jack for Target have introduced sensory-friendly clothing for kids, and are adding to their line by creating clothes for kids with other disabilities as a part of their Design for All initiative. These pieces are designed with many different disabilities in mind – including wheelchairs, sensory concerns, and abdominal access for feeding tubes. Their sensory-friendly clothes are designed without itchy tags or seams and are constructed in soft cotton. Other online shops are also popping up, such as Smart Knit Kids, which offers seamless socks, underwear, and tees for kids with sensory processing disorders.
- Opportunities for postsecondary education – colleges and universities all over the country are offering programs and courses with intellectually disabled students in mind. The REACH Program at the University of Iowa welcomes students with learning disabilities, autism and other intellectual disabilities. This program offers a real college experience, with integrated housing, inclusive educational opportunities, employment training, and more. Landmark College in Vermont was created especially for students with dyslexia, hyperactivity, and other learning disabilities
- Adaptive fitness opportunities are becoming more widely available – adaptive gyms are popping up all over! Unified Health and Performance in Lancaster is offering an inclusive environment for fitness. People of all abilities are welcome at the gym and accommodations are made to create a great experience for everyone. The gym also offers several adaptive group classes per week for both kids and adults. For more information about their mission, check out the Worcester Business Journal feature article. This Washington Post article also has a lot of great information about fitness for people with disabilities, and features a personal trainer who has autism.