First of all, I'd like to thank our nation's direct support workforce for their commitment and dedication to people with disabilities. Moreover, I'd like to recognize the complex skills and professional values it requires to be an effective direct support professional - one of the most challenging, yet rewarding occupations in the country. I hope all of you receive the due recognition you deserve during National Direct Support Professional Recognition Week and that you take a moment to reflect on the incredible impact that you have on the lives and the personal outcomes of the people that you support.
I have the honor of talking with thousands of direct support professionals each year, many of whom tell me that they don't really need any formal recognition. They tell me that they get a sense of deep personal satisfaction that comes from some internal source for helping others on their life's journey. I suspect for some direct support professionals that this might be true, but everyone appreciates a look in the eye, a handshake (or a hug) and a heartfelt "thank you" from a supervisor, a family member or (especially) someone with a disability who is receiving support.
Since the deinstitutionalization movement of the 1970's, the duties of the direct support professional has evolved from that of a caretaker or an attendant who merely provided coverage on a shift, to someone who is an integral part of a person life that provides comprehensive, person-centered support and shares a path toward a self-directed life for those with disabilities. The expectations for direct support professionals has also changed during these forty years, and I believe that if we are going to continue sharing this path, then direct support professionals will have to become really good at connecting with community in all aspects of a person's life - home, work, play and worship (if he or she chooses). As it says in the prelude to our Code of Ethics, "the whole landscape of a person's life can change with the coming and going of these critical supports for people".
The United States is in the process of reforming the larger task of the healthcare industry, which includes services for individuals with developmental disabilities. Through the untiring work of self-advocates, families, direct support professionals, service provider agencies, and public policy makers, a largely institutional care system has been turned on its head by developing a myriad of community-based supports and service options over the past four decades. Now we must demonstrate leadership by preserving and advancing the successes of the past by embracing the work of direct support as a profession and attracting new generations of men and women who seek it as a career.
So, if we are to really meet the future needs of people with disabilities, then direct support professionals will require a lot more than just recognition. They are going to need the tools to be effective community builders, possess the skills to promote self-determination and they must understand their professional ethics to do the right thing when no one is looking.
How are we going to do this? By providing competency-based training to all staff; embracing the use of technology that afford direct support professionals more time to spend working directly with the people they support; embrace, train and adhere to the Code of Ethics; advancing a voluntary, portable national credential as the gold standard of direct support practice; and collect and evaluate workforce data, such as retention and turnover rates, worker wages, benefits, and training so that we can monitor our progress, learn from our experiences, and continue to develop good workforce policy going forward.
I know that none of the above examples will be easy, but look at how far this system has advanced over the past forty years - and direct support professionals deserve much of the credit for those advancements. So, now it's time that we commit to our direct support workforce by building upon John F. Kennedy Jr's vision for the NADSP when he wrote in 1996; "quality is defined at the point of interaction between the staff member and the person with a disability".
The time is now. ANCOR, its members and the National Advocacy Campaign can be a leading force. Let's do it.