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Another Voice: Direct support professionals deserve to make a living

By Deziar Whitlock

Direct support professionals who support people with disabilities are underpaid, plain and simple. I worked in the fast food industry for five years before deciding to move on and work with the Cantalician Center. I’ve seen how both jobs operate and it’s unfair that those that work in the fast food industry can make more than a DSP.

The work that we do to support people with their everyday life is a colossal job. I continually worry about people’s safety. I worry about making sure people get their medication in the right dosage and at the right time. I worry about making sure people eat healthy and at the right time so it doesn’t conflict with any medications they may take so that they do not become ill and have to trek back and forth to the doctor’s office or worse the hospital.

The responsibility I have in my job as a DSP far outweighs any job responsibility I had working in the fast food industry.

Unfortunately for me, my co-workers and the people we serve, the person serving the fries earns more that the dedicated support professionals who are making sure an individual doesn’t choke on them. We strive to ensure people are treated with dignity and that they have the best quality of life possible, because that is what every person deserves.

Making ends meet as a DSP is hard. I also work at a group home making less than $12 per hour. A fast food restaurant would be paying me over $13. In order to pay for my apartment, car and college tuition, I have to work my regular scheduled hours, which is 24 hours a week and 16-hour shifts on the weekends. This is on top of my full-time job.

At one point, I was offered a job working elsewhere for more money. It was so tempting. I really had to think about what would be best for me as a college student who also has to have time to study, but I remembered the ladies I work with. I love them like family. I was devastated at the thought of leaving the “ladies” who are sassy and so happy all the time.

The truth of the matter is I shouldn’t have to think about whether I should move on and leave them. DSP’s like myself have people’s lives in their hands. So I choose serving people over serving cheeseburgers even though it means I have to work for less pay. It will never make sense to me that I have to make that choice.

Sadly, it seems as though wages for serving fast food hold higher value than wages for serving people, but I truly hope that’s not the case. I think I speak for all DSP’s when I say, New York State lawmakers need to think long and hard about the wage disparity between fast food and direct care.

I hope they see that people are worth more than their lunch order. Please be fair to direct care.

Deziar Whitlock is a direct support professional at Cantalician Center for Learning.

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