By March 11 of 2000, I had officially worked as a Direct Support Professional (DSP) at Arkansas Support Network (ASN) for 10 days. Ten days was long enough for me to know that this was important work — work that would change my life — work that could change the world. I wouldn’t have been able to tell you all of those things then. I was only 19 years old and hadn’t yet figured out how to conceptualize this work within a social justice framework or my place in it. I didn’t have the vocabulary or the critical analysis to fully understand the journey I was embarking on, but even in those first 10 days, I knew this work spoke to my soul, and I knew this work mattered, a lot.
Exactly 20 years later, on March 11, 2020, Arkansas Governor, Asa Hutchinson, declared a state of emergency in response to the rapidly growing coronavirus pandemic, and the rest of the world began a similar reckoning concerning the Direct Support profession. As so many stunned people stopped in their tracks and attempted to adjust their worlds to working, learning, and living from home, the DSPs at ASN and the administrative personnel who support them, kept right on working. When a person with a disability who lives in their own home needs physical and/or emotional assistance to get out of bed, to eat, to care for their body/home/nutrition/finances, there is often little or no opportunity to Zoom those supports. ASN couldn’t and didn’t shut down. Our DSPs never stopped.
On March 11 of 2020, hundreds of employees of Arkansas Support Network did what they do every day, all across the state: they went to work, and they have continued to do so every day since. Many of them have consistently worked double and triple shifts as an already under-staffed workforce has faced additional shortages due to quarantines and isolations. Some DSPs have quarantined in with individuals who were COVID positive for extended periods of time in order to reduce the risk of community spread while ensuring a sick person was appropriately supported and cared for. Because of this dedication and commitment to doing this critically important work, many people who had never given much thought to or about Direct Support Professionals have begun to recognize how valuable and important these essential workers are for all of us.
The steadfastness, dedication, skill, and determination of our DSPs has helped the world begin an important conversation about the ways we’ve structured our collective priorities and the changes we must make moving forward. The pandemic has spotlighted the faults in our current system and offered opportunities to envision better ways.
Author and poet, Arundhati Roy, wrote in March of this year:
” Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”
I believe Roy, and 2020 has confirmed her. We have an opportunity in this crisis to evolve the disability and human services systems into more just and equitable vehicles focused on intersectionality, whole-person services, and community-building supports. We’ve been through too much this year, and we have too much to go through in the coming days, to not take advantage of this opportunity.
At ASN, we have always imagined a new world, one that centers and empowers the people we support to be truly included and valued for their contributions. Today, we are finding more and more people interested in imagining with us. We are committed to community building and collective action that centers and uplifts marginalized people and communities. We believe it is possible, and there is room here for everyone, including you.
I invite you to join us.
Your contributions, whatever they may be, are beneficial to this work. If you are fortunate enough to have extra financial resources that you will carry into 2021, monetary donations are vital to help us meet the financial demands of the pandemic. Since March, we’ve spent between $85,000-$135,000 each month on employee overtime alone. These costs are essential in keeping the individuals we support, our workforce, and our communities as safe as possible, but they are well over and above the PASSE reimbursement rates we receive for services.
Every donation is important, and no gift is too small. You can click on the donate button on our website or Facebook page to give now. If you are not able to contribute financially but want to support this essential work, there are so many ways you can participate in our efforts. Now more than ever, ASN can use your time, talents, networks, creativity, and advocacy. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org or message us on Facebook to discuss how you can contribute.
Thank you for the role you play in ASN’s essential work and for joining us in meeting this moment and seizing this opportunity to build better communities and a better world.
Happy New Year,
Syard Evans, Ph.D.