For more than four decades, direct support professionals have been supporting people with disabilities across every community in the country; helping people build and maintain relationships, supporting employment opportunities, supporting skills to live independently, supporting the unique and dignified contributions that build inclusive communities and promoting self-directed lives. Then, almost suddenly in early 2020, everything changed and community (where the work is done) was, for the most part closed. Over the course of the past year (or more), direct support professionals re-defined their jobs without a road map, supporting social distancing, educating about the needs of personal protective equipment, dealing with issues pertaining to daily schedule changes, using new technology to build relationships, and of course, keeping people who are three times more likely to die from the COVID-19 virus, healthy and safe. As with all crises, they rose to the occasion and exceeded expectations and as we emerge from these dark days, how will the I/DD system, funders and policy makers recognize these “heroes”? What opportunities are there to finally address this decades-long workforce “crisis”? This session will provide reflections from the pandemic and solution-driven ideas to finally create the hallmarks of a meaningful career for our direct support workforce.
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