It is easy to assume everyone understands the disabilities world, and specifically those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, but the truth is most do not. I’d like to invite you to take a simple journey with me and ponder a question: If something is present but you don’t see it, is it invisible? Much in the world of disabilities and services provided is unknown, unless you live in that world. Let me shine a light and provide some simple insight about this world and how supports occur every day for people, where they live and work based on their needs. These routine supports can often occur around us, in our neighborhoods and they go without notice. I have heard the response, “I had no idea that is what you did (in our services)”. The goal of each staff member at Developmental Services of Northwest Kansas is to provide meaningful supports and services to people with disabilities in their community; the type that you and I would desire if we were the recipient of those services. My reference is to all staff, but my focus here is on those staff members who are commonly known across our nation as Direct Support Professionals.
DSNWK, now in its 51st year, engages with these Direct Support Professionals to provide services and supports to people with disabilities to be involved in their community just like the rest of us. Those seamless, every-day services, do not happen automatically. They originate from the heart and through the hands and feet of dedicated staff who walk life's journey with people just like you and me, only difference - these people just happen to require extra support to be successful. These amazing staff, in doing their work, make the lives of others' better. Something many of us may not fully realize is these same support people wear many hats in the course of their work day. They are schedulers, teachers, shoppers, planners and skill builders. They provide medication and transportation supports as well as help problem-solve many times in any typical day. With a wide range of needs of persons served, the staff might be assisting a person as they prepare a meal at one moment and the next be involved in lifting and transferring another who may have mobility support needs. In society, these wonderful people 'participate' and 'contribute' continually pouring their efforts into the lives of persons served and the community in general. The President's Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities called attention to these workers noting they represent one of the highest workforces in demand. For those closely involved, we know the turnover rates and vacancy rates in this profession are high, and the resources available have historically been lacking. Another citation from the report included that the national average starting wage for this career field is low, starting from $8.66 to $13.67 (average $10.23) per/hr. This low-wage reality, along with low unemployment rates (particularly here in NW Kansas), and a growing demand for these valuable workers (as our population ages - and will be needing similar supports), begets the workforce crisis noted in the report. The challenge is upon us, and frankly, has been for a while.
There is much work in this arena and I believe there are two important take-a-ways worthy of calling out. First, recognizing the importance of these service professionals and the value they bring to the lives of others each and every day is a vital first step to achieve consistent quality supports that people with disabilities need and deserve. Secondly, responding to the workforce crisis, stemming from the growing demand requires direction, resources and renewed action. National Direct Support Professionals week, September 9th - 15th, 2018, affords us an opportunity to recognize these staff. Please join us in expressing gratitude to all those who serve others in any of the many varied roles of these direct support professionals. They deserve our thanks for the value they are in the lives of others and the value they bring to our communities.
Gerard L. Michaud, president and CEO
Developmental Services of Northwest Kansas, Inc.