Heroes Too Busy to Announce Themselves. (Editor's Desk)

By Rader, Rick | The Exceptional Parent, August 2001 | Go to article overview

Heroes Too Busy to Announce Themselves. (Editor's Desk)


Rader, Rick, The Exceptional Parent


My problem this month "is" in part the problem: several months ago, for the medical research issue, staff graphics artist Dennis Wilkes created a cover that portrayed people with developmental disabilities against a backdrop of Madame Curie. We thought she personified the spirit of medical research. The feedback from EP readers supported the impact.

For this current issue, in which we planned to showcase the plight and contributions of Direct Support Professionals (DSPs), I thought we should replicate the theme of that cover. Of course coming up with people who benefit from the Herculean work of this dedicated work force was no problem. But whom should we choose to "personify" the DSP? Who is the Madame Curie of Direct Support Professionals? Perhaps Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller's mentor, or Madame Guerin, who worked with the wild boy of Aveyron, or Dr. Pinel, who unshackled people with disabilities and mental illness who were relegated to asylums in 18th-century Paris? Who was going to be in the background that was emblematic of this profession? I rejected all of the above because they were either teachers or physicians; none of them really represented DSPs. After hours of contemplation and several phone calls I had to can the idea. The harsh reality was that there are no heroes, no icons, no names, no faces, that kids can point to and say, "That's who I want to be like." There are no DSPs on trading cards, American Express ads, music videos, or television shows. And in essence that is part of the problem.

Oh, there are heroes, and plenty of them--motivated and compelled to get up every day and show up at group homes, schools, camps, job sites, and community and state centers. Heroes that are content, and fortified to see subtle benchmarks of achievement to authenticate their efforts and skills. Heroes that after stating they are DSPs at high school reunions, have to then explain exactly what they do, and why.

And that's why we had to forgo the cover plans and go with the one adorning this issue of ER This issue is a milestone for these reasons: it's the first time EP has ever provided such comprehensive coverage on work force issues; no other national publication has dedicated so many pages to presenting the mounting pressures on families, communities, states , the nation, and the entire disability movement. These pressures are epidemic in proportion and put the collective level of care of an entire population in a potentially marginalized condition.

The cover depicts the dilemma of the emerging work force--choosing between a noble, vital, and challenging profession and those that pay more, stress less, and get you going without never-ending training and accountability. Choosing between assisting people with communication and complex behavior manifestations and salting fries.

The DSPs are constantly hearing idiomatic expressions like "the frontlines," "in the trenches," and "where the rubber meets the road." And for good reason: that's where they work and that's where they're found. The imagery of soldiers in a war is often criticized, but ask DSPs and they'll confirm the notion. …

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