Investing in Communities


Video: Invaluable: The Unrecognized Profession of Direct Support1

“DSPs need a unique combination of skills to support people with disabilities. When they do their job well, they not only transform the lives of people with disabilities, but they also make a vital contribution to the whole community.”

This direct support workforce crisis has a multifaceted impact on the community. When there are not enough staff, and when those who are present are not well trained, the people they support use more of the community’s police, ambulance, firefighter, emergency department, acute care, and other resources. Availability of more experienced and better-trained DSPs could reduce this cost to communities and increase the health, safety, and quality of life for people with disabilities.2

Additionally, given that nearly half of all DSPs use some form of government-funded, means-tested public assistance, the current crisis’ foundation in low-wage, limited-advancement employment results in communities and taxpayers picking up the costs of income replacement supports for health care, housing, food, child care, and other necessities.2

There persists a belief that Medicaid is an entitlement for people with disabilities, a drain on public resources. “There’s no handout to [Medicaid],” says Mary Ann Allen, director of Wildwood Programs in New York. “That’s earned resources that are then reinvested in a community and in our loved ones. And they in turn are now being able to work if they have stable support, volunteer in ways that people in other organizations benefit from because they have the support of a direct support professional workforce.” Maintaining and strengthening this workforce is essential to the well being of people with disabilities and their families.

DSPs give back to the community. How can we give back to DSPs?

Invaluable: The Unrecognized Profession of Direct Support is a documentary film by he Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota exploring the underappreciated and underfunded work of direct support professionals (DSPs), the people who support individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in living full lives as members of their communities. Through stories and interviews with DSPs, family members, advocates, and people with disabilities from across the country, the film honors the complexity of the work and the immense value it provides to individuals receiving support. And it asks us to take action now in strengthening the DSP workforce before the system collapses. Read more about “Invaluable” here.


  1. Invaluable: The Unrecognized Profession of Direct Support. Directed by Jerry Smith. Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota, 2019.
  2. Hewitt, A., Lakin, C., Macbeth, J. Kramme, J., & Benway, C. (2018). President’s committee for people with intellectual disabilities report to the president 2017: America’s direct support workforce crisis —  Effects on people with intellectual disabilities, families, communities and the U.S. economy. Washington D.C.: President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.
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