What is a Direct Support Professional (DSP)

Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) work closely with people of all ages who have intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). DSPs help people with I/DD achieve the fullest lives possible by empowering them to overcome challenges in areas and activities that would otherwise prevent them from being self-sufficient.

What’s the difference between a DSP and a Caregiver or Home Health Aide?

Qualifications vary from state to state, but in New York and New Jersey, the primary role of a DSP is to provide support. This is different from caregiving or providing in-home health care. A caregiver or home health aide will do things for their clients, such as picking out and purchasing groceries. In contrast, a DSP will work with the people they’re supporting to help them do things on their own, like choosing their own groceries and paying the cashier. DSPs teach people with disabilities how to do things independently, whereas caregivers perform tasks for them.

In the past, DSPs were trained as caregivers, but as the field has evolved, so too has the role of a DSP. Although DSPs and caregivers both assist with activities of daily living the primary role of a DSP is to support people with I/DD to lead self-directed lives.

What are the job responsibilities of a DSP?

Since DSPs focus on providing individualized supports for people with disabilities, the job varies depending on the needs and wants of the person being supported. DSP work can include assistance with education, home care, basic health and hygiene, transportation, housing, family services, vocational training, rehabilitation, or simply helping people integrate into their local community.

Depending on the supports needed, DSPs may work in a person’s home, in their family’s home, in a YAI residence, at a day habilitation center, or out in the community. These jobs provide rewarding work that benefits people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their communities.

What skills do I need to become a Direct Support Professional?

The most important skill needed in order to be a DSP is a strong sense of empathy. Since DSPs must put the wants and needs of the people they support first, they must be able to connect to and relate to people of all abilities. Other important skills for DSPs include:

  • Excellent interpersonal skills
  • An ability to work well in a team
  • Effective communication skills
  • Accountability
  • Patience

What are the requirements and qualifications to be a Direct Support Professional?

Qualifications vary from state to state, but in New York State and at YAI, the following qualifications apply:

  • DSPs are required to pass a criminal background check
  • High School Diploma or GED
  • Work or life experience in the I/DD field is a plus but not mandatory
  • Upon hire, you must be able to complete three to five weekdays of paid New York State-mandated OPWDD training during normal business hours
  • Tuberculosis (TB) testing is mandatory for most positions (and is provided free of charge by our Premier HealthCare clinic)
  • All job-specific training takes place at YAI offices or on-site at the individual programs

What DSP trainings will I receive at YAI?

YAI prides itself on the quality of our training department which offers a variety of in-person and online trainings in the I/DD field. Topics range from how to support people with I/DD through grief to how to apply person-centered thinking in every aspect of an individual’s life. In addition to these one-of-a-kind trainings, there are a variety of state-mandated trainings for New York, New Jersey, and California, the three states in which YAI operates. Most mandatory trainings can be completed online. They include:

  • CPR and First Aid
  • Knowledge, strategies, and skills competency training
  • Putting people first
  • Promoting positive relationships
  • Abuse prevention, incident reporting, and laws and regulations (3 training sessions)
  • Human growth and development
  • Safety and security procedures
  • Choking prevention

What makes YAI different from other I/DD agencies?

YAI is unique for both its size and scope. At YAI, our staff of 4,000 support more than 20,000 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities each year. Our large size benefits both our employees and the people we support. In addition to providing staff with many opportunities for professional development throughout YAI and its affiliate agencies, our size also enables us to offer more than 300 programs including residential, day habilitation, employment training, community habilitation programs, service coordination, education, health care, and family services.

YAI provides services throughout New York City, Long Island, Northern New Jersey, and New York’s Hudson Valley region (Westchester, Rockland, and Orange Counties). YAI also offers START crisis response and respite services in California. Our large footprint allows us to provide numerous opportunities for people with I/DD and our staff. Additionally, YAI offers exceptional benefits for staff, including health insurance, generous PTO, 403(b) retirement plans, and tuition reimbursement.

To learn more about working at YAI or to start your career as a Direct Support Professional, please visit our careers page.