Today’s workforce is increasingly diverse. The direct support professional (DSP) workforce is no different: over 60% of those working with individuals with disabilities and the elderly identify as people of color, 28% identify as immigrants and over 83% identify as women. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives seek to recognize these cultural differences, not to overcome them or seek “sameness,” but to celebrate and honor these differences.
Along the same lines, for those of us who provide services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), it’s crucial to be person-centered in all that we do. Some of the most important aspects of our personhood reflect the same areas of diversity that DEI initiatives address: our ethnic background, gender identity, age and disability status, among others. Therefore, in order for DSPs and I/DD providers to be truly person-centered, they must also celebrate the wonderful range of diversity among the people they serve.
But what does this mean for I/DD providers? For many of us, we were raised to be “color blind,” to ignore differences and to not point out areas of inequality among those we serve. However, this doesn’t create an inclusive environment, and often leads to accidentally excluding the individuals we support. As Joe Gerstandt, an inclusion and diversity speaker and consultant says, “When you do not intentionally, deliberately include…you will unintentionally exclude.”
There are many ways that I/DD providers can begin to help train their DSPs on DEI topics and include DEI as part of their person-centered services. The following are a few ways to get started:
Begin to include DEI training topics within your current cultural competency training programs. Many organizations already train on cultural competency, so leverage what you already have to get started. See if there are groups of employees at your organization who could benefit from re-training in these topics, even if it is outside of an annual training plan.
Train everyone at the organization on DEI. Leadership, your board of directors, managers, supervisors and administrative staff all need to be included in any DEI training that occurs. If DSPs are the only group to receive this type of training, it will be nearly impossible to reinforce the lessons learned if managers, supervisors and other leaders in the organization are not also trained on the same concepts.
Seek outside help in creating your DEI training. There are a wealth of organizations and consultants that will help you determine the best way to begin to train your staff on DEI. Don’t feel like you need to do everything yourself; having experts in the field help you is worth the investment.
To learn more about DEI training for your staff and organization, join me and my colleague Arlene Bridges at Elevate: The 2022 ANCOR Annual Conference in Miami, FL on April 12. Our session, “Training Direct Support Professionals, Supervisors & Organizational Leaders on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion,” will provide more information on best practices for training DSPs in DEI topics, and how this training can improve outcomes for those you serve and your organization.
Nellie Galindo, MSW, MSPH, is a Product Marketing Manager for Relias. She has worked with individuals with disabilities in several settings, including working as a direct service provider for individuals with mental illness and leading a youth program for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She is a founding board member of Youth LEAD NC, a nonprofit serving youth with disabilities in the state of North Carolina.
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