What is DSP Recognition Week?

Direct Support Professional Recognition Week is a national celebration of the dedication, hard work, and passion that DSPs devote to supporting people with disabilities to live the most independent and high-quality life possible. It’s a time for all human services professionals, families, friends, and supported individuals to acknowledge the key role that these front-line, essential employees play in making life better for the people that they support. For 2022, the many festivities of DSP Recognition Week will take place from September 11th – 17th.

The Important Work of Direct Support Professionals

It’s not easy to put into just a few words the incredible role that DSPs play in the human services field. They support individuals who have a wide range of physical, neurological, intellectual, and developmental disabilities. Older adults also benefit greatly from the dedication and hard work of DSPs.
Depending on the type of disability the person has, DSPs are responsible for supporting them to become steadily more independent and successful in virtually every aspect of community living. Here are just a few examples:

  • Personal self-care: bathing, dressing, and grooming
  • Household responsibilities: meal preparation, laundry, and cleaning
  • Employment skills
  • Social skills
  • Community mobility: using the bus, getting to and from school or work
  • Recreation: gardening, sports, hiking, art
  • Community activities: volunteerism, church activities, neighborhood parties
  • Academic pursuits

The quality services that DSPs provide are endless. Simply put, we all have our dreams of what we see as a fulfilling and satisfying life. Individuals with disabilities are no different. Some DSPs may need to help someone they support navigate a wheelchair through the library. Others might be tasked with helping them to practice home safety procedures. The support DSP teams provide is truly the backbone of integrative, community-based, and high-quality disability support services.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCE: What is a Direct Support Professional

How Do They Do It?

The road that many people with disabilities (including older adults) must take to improved independence in the least restrictive environment can be long and oftentimes a bit bumpy. Historically, our fellow human beings who had various types of physical, developmental, or intellectual disabilities were “warehoused” in large institutions or consigned to work in low wage sheltered workshops. Sadly, they were virtually hidden from society and even their own family members.

At Advocates of Life Skills and Opportunity (ALSO), our DSPs work tirelessly every day to support people as they overcome any and every barrier they might have to achieving life goals. For example, many people we support have more than one disability, which could include both intellectual and developmental disabilities. On top of that, it’s not uncommon for the individual to also have anxiety and/or depression, which makes functioning and thriving in the community even more difficult.

If you consider all of the little separate abilities any of us might need to perform the most basic of tasks, it can be quite daunting. Sometimes what the rest of us think are the simplest tasks and behaviors could be extremely difficult for our community members who might have one or more disabilities.

The very challenging work of the Direct Support Professional then, includes really getting into the details of the specific barriers to independence that a person might have. Indeed, the can-do attitude of our direct support collaborative team has a major positive impact on achieving independence.

The passion and care that this innovative direct support workforce devotes to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities truly comes from a special place in the heart. That’s why, at ALSO, we call it Heart Work.

How Do We Celebrate Our Direct Support Professionals?

So how do we properly honor the amazing DSPs across the nation for the caring work that they do for older adults and individuals with disabilities? In previous years, human services agencies, non-profits, and many other kinds of disability support service providers have celebrated DSP week in so many fun and exciting ways:

  • Providing gift cards, gift bags, or gift baskets.
  • Posting huge “Thank You” notes and videos on social media (posts can also be made by supported persons).
  • Speeches and keynote addresses by leadership and other staff members: including executive directors, therapists, social workers, and board members.
  • “Thank You” receptions catered by the organization’s staff members.
  • DSP Week car washes, in which the money earned is evenly distributed to all direct care staff.

This month, ALSO will celebrate DSP Appreciation Week in multiple ways, including:

  • Giving out branded SWAG, such as t-shirts.
  • Hosting a picnic that DSPs can attend with their friends and family. It will also be open to the individuals we support. This will be our first in-person DSP celebration since 2019!
  • Purchasing both individual and group gifts for our DSPs.
  • Creating a video to thank our direct support professionals.
  • A daily raffle that all DSPs are automatically entered into.

We are looking forward to the festivities and can’t wait to celebrate our DSP team members!

ALSO Direct Support Professional Spotlight

At ALSO, we’re putting the spotlight on our amazing DSP workforce and the great work that they do. Here they describe what they give, as well as the personal rewards they receive by working with individuals who have developmental or intellectual disabilities.


Darrin: “People who receive supported living are drivers of their own supports. We are not their boss, but instead we partner with them to deliver the supports they are seeking. We do anything we can to allow them to live the life they want for themselves.”


Jackie: “Our tasks center around assistance with meeting goals set by the person being supported. This includes all kinds of daily life tasks. It also includes assistance with inclusion into the community, and balancing health and safety.”

Sara: “My hopes moving forward are that she [person supported] finds an outlet for her passion…through volunteering, through employment, through socialization where she really feels connected with her community and she gets to share her gifts.”

Lori: “Heartwork has changed my life, it lifts me up, and fills my days with purpose. I never thought I’d make a career out of bringing joy to someone’s life.”

As we all know, the joy and job satisfaction that our DSPs receive doesn’t minimize the difficulty of this very challenging work. The restrictions and lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic made the goal of community inclusion much more difficult. Yet, through determination, passion, and kindness, ALSO DSPs were still able to provide high-quality supportive services.  Thus, every one of our talented DSP colleagues deserves recognition.

How is DSP Recognition Week Celebrated Nationally?

Since the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NADSP) was initially formed in 1996, the enthusiasm for annual celebrations has reached all 50 states. What’s particularly heartwarming is that DSPs are finally being appreciated for the incredible work that they do. Let’s take a look at what organizations across the US have been doing.

Ohio: The Delaware County Board of Developmental Disabilities hosted a drive-through lunch for busy DSPs. Any DSP was able to receive a meal in the community, in addition to special offers from local businesses.

New York State: The Office for People with Developmental Disabilities inducted 20 professionals into the DSP Hall of Fame. These awesome people were chosen by their colleagues as stellar role models of what it takes to excel at work.

Pennsylvania: Marian Baldini, CEO of KenCrest (a human services and early education agency) wrote an article for a local news agency. As a former DSP, Baldini called for better support, pay, and career opportunities for this incredible, yet underappreciated group of professionals. Read the full article here.

How to Show Your Gratitude

Direct support professionals are always there to advocate for individuals with disabilities, including their right to work, to live as independently as possible, and to experience full inclusion in society.

So how do we show our gratitude to DSPs? Here’s a list from the folks at ALSO:

  • Volunteer for your local disability support service provider.
  • Write about your personal experiences with direct support professionals in the local newspaper.
  • Make a donation.
  • Advocate for increased wages, training, and benefits for DSPs. For example, you could contact your local representative to bring attention to these topics.

Most of all, please remember that a simple “thank you” goes a long way to helping our DSP workforce feel supported and appreciated.

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