Disability Services Case Competition

Three students, a man and two women, on a college campus huddling over the laptop of the student in the middle

In response to a decades-long shortage of professionals who support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) to be included in the community, ANCOR and the ANCOR Foundation are launching the first-ever Disability Services Case Competition. Designed to cultivate solutions to a workforce crisis that is hindering access to opportunities for people with I/DD, the Case Competition is your chance to affect positive social change, jump-start your career and—for the top three teams—win cash prizes worth up to $15,000.

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The Case Competition kicks off on October 19, 2022, and proposed solutions will be due on December 14, 2022. Learn more and spread the word by downloading our flyer.

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About the Case Competition


In every corner of your community and on your college campus, there are people with intellectual or developmental disabilities (I/DD). According to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, I/DD refers to “differences that are usually present at birth and that uniquely affect the trajectory of the individual’s physical, intellectual, and/or emotional development.” Examples include cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, Fragile X syndrome and spina bifida.

While social justice advocates are increasing the visibility of those individuals with differing abilities, direct support professionals (DSPs)—the individuals working tirelessly behind the scenes to provide the extra support individuals with I/DD need to live independently, in the community, and a life of their own choosing—too often remain invisible.

From helping people navigate school and work to supporting them in carrying out the most intimate activities of daily living, such as personal hygiene, DSPs are often the bridge between a person and their community.

For decades, however, there has been a severe shortage of DSPs due mainly to the fact that states, through their Medicaid programs, dictate the wages their employers can pay. Medicaid programs in all states pay the providers that employ DSPs too little to guarantee a living wage to all DSPs, which has led to a recruitment and retention crisis. On average, provider agencies see a 43% annual turnover rate, meaning that if 100 DSPs work for an agency on January 1, only 57 will remain employed there by December 31 of that same year.

To glean a sense of the difference DSPs make in the lives of people with I/DD, watch a few of the short videos in our seven-part series on what it means to be a DSP.

As you might imagine, the COVID-19 pandemic has only made this situation worse. When many industries began experiencing staffing shortages at the onset of the pandemic, employers began offering sign-on bonuses, higher starting hourly wages, pay incentives and more. These measures have worked wonders in terms of improving wages overall, with fast food and retail jobs in some places now paying upwards of $20 per hour.

But for the community providers that employ DSPs, these options didn’t exist. Because providers can pay what their state Medicaid programs’ reimbursement rates will allow, there was only a modest increase in DSP wages in 2020. Whereas starting wages in retail positions may hover around $20 per hour, DSPs earn only about $13.40 per hour at the median. This is even though DSPs perform highly skilled work that is often intimate and personal.

So why does all this matter? The bottom line is this: when there are too few DSPs, there are too few opportunities for people with I/DD to be supported. If they’re fortunate enough to have a family member with the means to help them, they can live with that family member and be supported by them when they’re not working. And when they lack access to support, the options before them are close to non-existent.

Beyond that, the alternative is often being warehoused in a large, state-run institution or a nursing home, even if those settings are far from appropriate for the person needing support.

Our own research has found, for example, that as of September 2021, more than 81% of providers reported struggling to meet quality standards due to ongoing staffing shortages. 

Competition Details

ANCOR is the leading national voice for the community providers that employ DSPs. Our 2,000 members across the country employ more than a half-million DSPs to support more than 1 million people with I/DD. For these reasons, ANCOR and the ANCOR Foundation are hosting our first-ever Disability Services Case Competition.

This Case Competition is designed to engage the next generation of leaders in the human services field—you—to identify lasting solutions to the direct support workforce crisis. Between October 19 and December 14, you and a team of two other peers will have the opportunity to design, refine and pitch your idea for overcoming the direct support workforce crisis.

Hiring managers, decision-makers, influencers and C-Suite executives will evaluate the solutions devised by each three-person team based on:

  1. The creativity exhibited by the proposed solution.
  2. The feasibility of implementing the proposed solution.
  3. The level of awareness of the contours of the workforce crisis exhibited by the proposed solution.
  4. The quality of the presentation of the proposal.

The top 10 teams will advance to the semifinals, which will be a virtual presentation to various members of ANCOR’s staff, its Professional & Organizational Development Committee and the ANCOR Foundation Board of Directors. The top three teams will reach the finals.

The three teams selected to advance to the final round of the competition will be invited to present their proposed solution to participants at the 2023 ANCOR Annual Conference, the largest national gathering of the provider community. The 2023 ANCOR Annual Conference will take place April 24-26 in Chicago. Learn more about the ANCOR Annual Conference experience.

After a mainstage presentation, the finalist teams will be ranked first, second and third by the audience, with prize money to be distributed as follows:

  • 1st place: $15,000 ($5,000 per team member)
  • 2nd place: $7,500 ($2,500 per team member)
  • 3rd place: $3,000 ($1,000 per team member)

In addition to the opportunity to improve access to the community for people with I/DD and the chance to win scholarship money, there is an array of other benefits to participating in the Disability Services Case Competition, including:

  • An impressive addition to your resume.
  • The opportunity to work with and receive feedback from national leaders in the human services field.
  • Networking and learning opportunities at the 2023 ANCOR Annual Conference (if selected as a finalist).
Who Should Participate

To be eligible to participate, you must be a degree-seeking undergraduate student at a two- or four-year community college, university or other degree-conferring educational institution. Additionally, you must be in good academic standing according to the standards prescribed by your college or university.

Although students from any major or degree program may enter the competition, it may be especially appealing to students interested in careers in:

  • Social work / human services
  • Counseling
  • Sociology
  • Psychology
  • Human resources
  • Nursing / clinical studies
  • Behavioral and mental health
  • Public health / health administration
  • Education / special education
  • Urban Studies
  • Public policy / public administration
  • Nonprofit management / organizational leadership
  • Business administration
  • Finance
  • Law
  • Marketing / communications
Key Dates
  • October 19, 2022: Competition Kickoff (interested participants will receive the Case itself, as well as a toolkit designed to facilitate your team’s work)
  • December 14, 2022: Case Solutions Due
  • January 27, 2023: Semifinalists (Top 10) Announced
  • February 20-24, 2023: Virtual Semifinalist Presentations
  • March 17, 2023: Finalists Announced
  • April 25, 2023: Finalists Presentations on the Mainstage at ANCOR’s 2023 Annual Conference in Chicago

Have questions? Need additional information? Get in touch!

Please reach out to Sasha Sencer, ANCOR’s Director of Education & Intersectional Collaboration, via email.