By Angelia Lewis
I started in this field as a Direct Support Professional (DSP) in October of 2015. Never would I have thought in my wildest dreams that as a single parent raising two adult males with developmental disabilities, I would find myself using over 30 years of the knowledge, insight, and simply put, true-to-life experiences of my own personal journey to help guide, motivate, support, encourage, and inspire other adults with disabilities as they navigate through their own personal life’s journey.
Direct Support Professional (DSP) is a general term referring to staff who work directly with people with intellectual or developmental disabilities. DSPs aim to assist clients in realizing their full potential, assisting them to become integrated and engaged in their community both in residential and non-residential settings such as employment.
As a DSP worker, I am more than staff. In many ways, I serve as a listener, a cheerleader, a counselor, a friend, a confidant, resource guide, etc. What has kept me so connected with working in this field for this length of time is the reward of seeing individuals accomplish their dreams and goals. Also, it gives me a sense of gratitude and joy in knowing that I am helping them to discover and pursue their purpose.
I’ve had the privilege of working as a DSP in our Personal supports program as well as our Employment support services program. Clients in our Personal Supports program received personalized care in their own homes by trained and compassionate DSPs like me. In our Employment Support Services, DSPs serve as job coaches to assists job seekers with disabilities, design a customized career path. Supports vary from assisting with seeking or maintaining a job. You may still be wondering, what exactly does a DSP. No worries, in the next few paragraphs, I’ll be walking you through a day in the life of DSP in our Personal Supports and Employment Support Services programs.
Here we go! As a DSP in our ESS program, I serve as a job coach. I first start the day preparing myself spiritually, physically and mentally, making sure that I am in the right frame of mind to provide the best service and support for the client. I take the time to review the client’s goals and examine ways on how I can help him or her achieve them.
When meeting with the client at his/her place of employment, I check in with the supervisor or shift manager, introducing myself and letting them know why I am there. I dialogue with the client, making sure that he/she has clocked in and is ready for work. I go over the assigned task given to the client and review the task check list to make sure that he/she is aware and understands the duties. I observe the client performing assigned tasks, making sure that he/she is focused. I often acknowledge the client by giving him/her positive feedback and compliments as well as words of encouragement when needed.
When there is a challenge with performing a task, I look for ways and ideas to help the client navigate through the situation. Sometimes that may require meeting him/her before the start of a shift to reflect, re-evaluate, review, or sometimes watch a short video pertaining to the problem. Sometimes I even brainstorm with the client on ways to create positive outcomes, with emphasis on safety, independence, and self-advocacy.
Before ending the work shift, I make sure that the client has completed all assigned tasks. The client is responsible for reviewing his/her task check list and checking off those tasks listed for the day.
After clocking out, I compliment the client on his/her day and make suggestions, if needed, on how to make improvements in order to achieve any set company goals.
As a DSP, at the end of the day, whether on the job or in the community, I always strive to make sure that the client I serve feels good about his/her day, about him/herself, and about the work that he/she has accomplished!
As a Personal Support Staff Worker, my job involves working with the clients to meet their personal goals. I help them discover a variety of their personal interests while building their confidence and the necessary skills for them to be successfully integrated in their communities.
I start the day by picking up the client from home or from their workplace. We discuss their interests or activities that they would like to do for the day. Sometimes the client has a place or two in mind that he/she would like to visit, or errands to run. I drive the client to their designated place of choice. Sometimes it is a festival, special event, a restaurant or eatery, a social gathering, a place of fitness like a gym, or an area for walking or relaxing, like a mall or park. Sometimes, the client and I will search the internet together for things that meet the client’s interest.
For example, during the height of the pandemic in 2020, I found a support group and a performing arts virtual choir for one of the clients to connect with. She ended you joining the choir and has been traveling with them throughout the DMV. She has attended festivals and competitions with the choir. She says that her life is more fulfilled, and she is more confident with who she is because of being a part of this group.
Making life meaningful for the clients I serve and hearing stories like this brings me a sense of joy and a newfound appreciation for the work that I do as a DSP worker.
As I stated earlier, a good DSP is more than a staff. You must be patient, eager to learn, open, understanding, kind, adaptable and compassionate. You serve in various capacities-friend, confidant, cheerleader, etc. Working in this field has changed my life in so many ways and I am forever grateful for this opportunity that Jewish Community Services has given me. It has made me become more caring, dedicated and committed to helping communities embrace, accept, and appreciate what individuals with disabilities have to offer while allowing them to live meaningful lives and to become productive members of society.
Angelia Lewis is a Direct Support Professional and Job Coach for the Support Services for Individuals with Disabilities program at JCS.
Jewish Community Services (JCS) provides programs and services for people of all ages and backgrounds, helping them achieve their goals, enhance their wellbeing, and maximize their independence. To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or 410-466-9200.