Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Shift Happens

There is a shift happening in the world of services for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities. It is happening slowly, and in some cases imperceptibly, but it is definitely happening. Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) are moving away from being caregivers toward what I’m going to call “environmental facilitators.”

What do I mean by environmental facilitator? I mean that the next generation of providers will be tasked with creating an environment within which individuals with a developmental disability will thrive. To me, being a caregiver is not an accurate way to describe that role.

That’s not a slight against caregivers. Some populations need well trained and compassionate caregivers, and there are many dedicated and skilled individuals who provide those services. But the people we serve need access to the community – which isn’t the same as needing to be cared for.

The individuals we serve face barriers to accessing the community because of their disabilities. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t need services. Our role as providers is to share the knowledge needed to adjust and work around those barriers. Here’s a very simple example of what I mean. Suppose an individual served by Imagine! can’t tie his shoes – and hasn’t been able to master this particular task well into adulthood. Does it make sense for him, and service providers, to spend long and frustrating hour upon hour focusing on teaching that person to tie his shoes? Or does it make more sense to just get him some loafers and then focus on heading out into the community?

I’d argue the latter makes more sense. At a certain point, does it really matter if he can’t tie his shoes if there is an easy work around which results in more time that can be spent on doing the things that really matter to the individual? To me, using the loafers is a way of working around a small barrier so it is easier to meet bigger challenges, and get more rewards as a result. But you have to have the knowledge that loafers exist, and you have to use that knowledge to make the connection between using the loafers and moving forward toward other, more ambitious goals.

Now pretend the loafers are new and emerging technologies. We have to have the knowledge they exist. We have to recognize the frustrations that can be overcome with their implementation. We have to know there is a way to overcome many barriers via the introduction of technologies. We must realize the rewards of meeting the bigger challenges on a person by person basis.

It is time for us to recognize that this shift is happening whether we like it or not. It is also time to create a workforce armed with easy access to knowledge and the ability move information into the hands of those who need it. Too often, I see organizations (including Imagine!) populated with employees who have a great deal of institutional knowledge in their collective heads, but no easy way to share that knowledge with fellow employees effectively or efficiently. That simply won’t work anymore. Having all that information isn’t a desirable quality if there isn’t a way for anyone who needs to get to that that information to access it a quick and timely manner.

We’re not caregivers anymore. We are not shoe salesman either. We are innovators who use knowledge to improve the lives of the individuals we serve by opening more doors to community engagement. It is time to embrace the shift.

Then again, what do I know?

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