Legislators must do something for direct support professionals (Opinion)

People who aid the intellectual disability and autism community need help to continue doing their work

By Veronica Young, May 22, 2023 – Reading Eagle

As a 62-year-old mother and grandmother who has dedicated 45 years of my life as a direct support professional, or DSP, I find myself in a distressing situation. I am highly educated, yet I cannot survive on the wholly inadequate wage funded exclusively by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. I am writing today to Gov. Josh Shapiro and Pennsylvania lawmakers, pleading with them to take action for the well-being of the intellectual disability and autism, or ID/A, community. Do something now.

I am deeply passionate about my work. I hold three jobs to support my three children, and despite my age, I continue to toil because I genuinely love what I do. However, it is disheartening to think that after 45 years, I am still juggling multiple jobs just to make ends meet. This should not be the reality for dedicated professionals like me.

Those who have no understanding of our profession dismiss us as glorified babysitters. But let me tell you, the responsibilities we bear are immense. I supervise and conduct daily tasks, from administering medications to ensuring personal hygiene, and I have even witnessed the passing of individuals under my care. How can anyone dare to undermine the dignity of our work?

I devote 40 hours a week to supporting individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism — individuals who have rights and deserve dignity just like everyone else. Yet, despite my commitment, I am forced to work three jobs to survive, which means my full work week can exceed 80 hours. I spend more time with the people I support than with my own family, and that is simply not acceptable in this day and age.

I am pleading with the governor and members of the General Assembly to not turn a blind eye to this critical issue. The ID/A community needs their immediate attention and action. We are all just one step away from being in their shoes, requiring the compassionate care of a DSP. It is our responsibility as a society to ensure these individuals are not neglected.

The workload placed on DSPs is unreasonable. We are often asked to work 16-hour days, only to be informed at the end that our co-worker has called off, and a substitute cannot be found. Such a heavy burden is unsustainable, and policymakers must address this pressing matter. What will they do to alleviate the immense strain we endure?

Promises of support are not enough, we really need state leaders to take concrete action. The ID/A community and the DSPs who serve them cannot be ignored any longer. Lives are at stake, and I, along with thousands of my fellow DSPs, am exhausted from the grueling 16-hour workdays while attempting to navigate additional jobs. We deserve better, and so do the individuals we support.

I implore policymakers to comprehend the urgency of this situation. The future of the ID/A community hangs in the balance. Young workers are deterred from entering this field due to the meager wages. I possess a college degree, yet I choose to remain a DSP because of my unwavering belief in the potential of individuals with ID/A.

Do not ignore the pleas of DSPs like me, nor the countless individuals and families affected by intellectual disabilities and autism. Our system is failing, and we need state leaders’ immediate intervention with real, meaningful action to invest in this community and save it from further suffering.

Today, I challenge policymakers to consider the impact they can make on the lives of so many. Stand up for what is right, for what will improve the lives of those who depend on us. DSPs are the unsung heroes who bring light and hope to people to people with ID/A and their families.

Veronica Young began her career as a direct support professional in 1979 and has spent the majority of her life supporting individuals with intellectual disabilities. She works at Emmaus Community of Pittsburgh serving adults in community based residential homes.

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