Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (TN IDDRC, UCEDD, LEND) introduces 2021 issue of Tennessee Kindred Stories of Disability: Direct Support Professionals

March 10, 2021

The Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (TN IDDRC, UCEDD, LEND) is proud to introduce its latest issue of Tennessee Kindred Stories of Disability, dedicated to telling the stories of Direct Support Professionals in Tennessee.

A project of the VKC's Public Policy Team, each year the VKC and The Arc Tennessee collaborate to produce a collection of stories that highlight the challenges individuals with disabilities and their families face as they navigate service systems and supports. Booklets are shared with Tennessee legislators during Disability Day(s) on the Hill and the Disability Policy Seminar in Washington, D.C., to educate them with first-hand accounts from constituents in their districts.

Direct Support Professionals (DSP) are individuals who are employed to provide a wide range of supportive and instructional services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities on a day-to-day basis. DSPs generally attend to the health, safety, and well-being of the people they work with by providing daily personal care, teaching life skills, and sup porting people to be actively engaged and working in their communities.

Across the country, there are approximately 1.4 million individuals who require services from DSPs to live full, meaningful lives in their communities. And unfortunately, the DSP workforce is in crisis. There are high turnover and vacancy rates, issues with tenure, burnout, and low hourly wages that contribute to a nationwide shortage of DSPs.

The stories in this edition of Kindred Stories of Disability come from DSPs living and working in Tennessee, but their issues are not unique to this state. The critical issues of low wages and high turnover are threaded throughout the stories of DSPs across the country. Additionally, DSPs are on the frontlines during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the pandemic has only increased the already critical workforce shortages.

The stories were collected through interviews conducted by Vanderbilt University students as part of the 2020-21 Tennessee Kindred Stories of Disability project. This annual project gives students, who are future educators, advocates, and researchers, an opportunity to learn firsthand from individuals with disabilities, families, and disability professionals. The images of the DSPs and their clients that accompany the stories were taken by photographer Jen Vogus and members of the AbleVoices Photography Club.

Click here to read the new issue of Tennessee Kindred Stories of Disability.