More Like Teachers and Mentors


Video: Invaluable: The Unrecognized Profession of Direct Support1

“Really, direct support staff are more like teachers, more like mentors. They are doing things with the person and not for the person necessarily. In my son’s case, he doesn’t speak, he uses sign language. So whoever works with him has to learn his signs. It’s not optional.” – Parent of a person with disabilities.

Like teachers, DSPs develop and implement effective strategies to teach people new skills. Like nurses, they dispense medications, administer treatments, document care, and communicate with medical professionals. Like various allied health professionals, they assess needs, implement specific treatment plans, and document progress. Like social workers, they get people connected to community resources and benefits. Like counselors, they listen, reflect, and offer suggestions. DSPs provide whatever support it takes so people can live and participate in their communities with greater independence and dignity.2

“It’s that hands-on person that really tries to balance that walk of providing support, but also helping people be as independent as possible.” – Joe Macbeth, Executive Director, NADSP.

“The feeling you get for making a difference in someone’s life, you get that every day. And that to me is priceless” – Hiram Williams, DSP, New Horizons Recourses, Inc.

DSPs make a difference EVERY DAY… How can we make a difference in DSPs lives today?

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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