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Vital Signs | Direct support professionals play key roles in lives with developmental disabilities

March is recognized as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, and at Region Ten Community Services Board, it also is an opportunity to reflect on the critical role of direct support professionals in the care and support of individuals who have developmental disabilities.

At Region Ten, DSPs support individuals in a variety of settings, including licensed residential group homes and the Meadowcreek Day Support Program, as well as through the In-Home Residential program, which assists individuals who reside independently in the community. One of the primary goals of each of these services is to support individuals to live their best lives with emphasis on person-centeredness and community engagement. Research has shown us that inclusion empowers adults with developmental disabilities to lead self-determined lives and pursue their goals and interests. Inclusive support services improve the overall quality of life for adults with developmental disabilities.

DSPs are an important cornerstone of an individual’s support team, and they are required to develop their person-centered thinking skills in order to get to know and understand what is important to the individuals they support.

Person-centered thinking involves the ability to listen to an individual’s needs, wants and desires, then assist the individual in fulfilling his or her dreams. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, DSPs are vital to America’s workforce and economy, as they provide necessary support to people of all ages who have various disabilities. A recent report from the Department of Labor estimates that 4.5 million people provide this role, with 87% being women and 53% women of color. In Virginia, the direct care role that DSPs provide is the fastest-growing occupation. The demand for DSP’s is predicted to add 1 million new jobs between 2019 and 2029.

With the natural supports of family, friends, community members and service-driven supports, such as those provided by DSPs, individuals with developmental disabilities lead lives full of activities, relationship-building opportunities, hobbies and employment. One example is Amanda, a 40-year-old woman with Down syndrome, who has agreed to share some of her story.

Amanda is surrounded with many communities of support, from her family, friends, her employer, Region Ten and Best Buddies to a variety of community connections who help her to live an independent life in pursuit of her personal goals.

Amanda describes herself as “fun, loving, kind, smart and beautiful.” Amanda, who recently got married in July 2023, said, “I love being married. It is great to be in love with the right man and have romance in my life.” In addition to enjoying time with her husband, Amanda has many talents.

As Amanda shared, “I do my art as a job and because it makes me happy. I sell my paintings in art shows. I also work part-time at the Kindness Café as a barista. I love working with the customers and making drinks like Peppermint Mocha (my favorite). I am also an actress. I played a part of the sister of the bride in a movie that was filmed in Richmond.”

Amanda also values her family and friends and enjoys attending sporting events with her husband and dancing. An important part of Amanda’s week includes spending time at the Meadowcreek Day Support Program at Region Ten. Amanda said, “Region Ten has helped me with my goals. I work on sign language, as I would like to be an interpreter. Staff help me to learn how to plan menus and make a grocery list. My favorite classes are science and art. I love learning new things on the computer. Staff help me with math, spelling and counting money. I also have a case manager who helps me and checks in to make sure I am happy.”

It has not always been an easy journey for Amanda to lead the life she envisioned for herself. Amanda, like many individuals across the commonwealth, waited many years to obtain a Virginia Developmental Disabilities waiver to help fund her services and supports. Amanda said, “I waited for over 20 years to get a Medicaid Waiver to help me.” Amanda has spoken out publicly and to state officials to advocate for more services to help her and others with disabilities live their best lives as independently as possible.

The state budget proposal from Gov. Glenn Youngkin includes money to pay for 3,440 new waivers over the biennium — enough to eliminate the current top priority or “Priority One” waitlist. With additional waivers to fund services for individuals with developmental disabilities, the need for DSPs will continue to grow.

Region Ten is grateful for its DSP workforce and encourages applicants who may be interested in providing these vital and life-changing services to individuals with developmental disabilities to visit to view available career opportunities.

Happy Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month.


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