By: Allison Wharry, CEO of New Hope of Indiana
March’s Developmental Disability Awareness Month provides an opportunity to raise our voices and share more about the need for inclusion of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in all areas of community life, and to educate others about the barriers that people with disabilities still face in connecting with their communities.
The awareness is even more important this year as individuals served in New Hope’s group homes and other residential programs mark one year of life dealing with COVID-19.
Unfortunately, despite the yearly observance, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are too often overlooked and undervalued. Our clients have so many abilities – whether they are part of the workforce, creating art that provides enjoyment or are able to live away from their parents and childhood homes.
What are developmental disabilities?
Developmental disabilities affect a person’s growth and/or cognition and include cerebral palsy, autism, Down syndrome and more.
These disabilities can vary in severity. Not only does New Hope offer support to individuals and families impacted by intellectual and developmental disabilities, but the organization also strives to build a more inclusive community where those with disabilities are welcomed and embraced by all.
One of the best ways to advocate for those with developmental disabilities is to ensure that their caregivers are paid a living wage and can continue doing their valuable work. Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) help clients with daily activities, transportation, cooking, cleaning and create a feeling of home for those they serve. They also give family members of those with disabilities a chance to take a break, go to work or school, or care for their other children. It’s hard work and most are not paid enough to stay in the field due to insufficient Medicaid reimbursements. On average in Indiana, DSPs make $11.31 an hour or an annual salary of $23,524 per year. More than one-third of DSPs leave the field each year. They tell us they want to stay in these important jobs, but they need more money to do so.
Along with INARF and other advocates, New Hope of Indiana has advocated for higher DSP wages to be included in the State Budget for the past several legislative budget sessions and continues to hope lawmakers will fund this important increase. The House-passed budget this year did include an appropriation for a DSP wage increase. We are thankful and cautiously optimistic that it will remain in the bill and make it to the Governor’s desk. But, it’s a long road.
How can you be an advocate for those with developmental disabilities this month? Take a moment to let state lawmakers know how important a wage increase for DSPs is to this vulnerable population, their families and our society. You can also follow New Hope of Indiana on social media and share the stories of our clients, their families and caregivers. Take action to let those with disabilities, and those that care for them, know that they matter.
Allison Wharry is the CEO of New Hope of Indiana. For over forty years, New Hope of Indiana has supported individuals and families, encouraging them to live their most independent lives. Through services for individuals with disabilities, counseling for families in the child welfare system and advocacy efforts, New Hope of Indiana is making an impact in our communities every day.