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Are There Enough Professionals Trained in Disability Support?

Are There Enough Professionals Trained in Disability Support? Across the United States, the number of those with intellectual disability (ID) continues to rise. According to recent estimates, about 6.5 million people in the country have one or more IDs. This rough number is expected to balloon even more as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) now report that 3% of children have some form of ID. Experts believe that with the increase in earlier diagnoses, the number of teenagers, adults, and older adults with ID will also swell over time.

Despite the growing number of those with special needs, the ranks of professionals trained in ID support remain thin. Nationwide, staffing shortages are being reported in various healthcare, social care, and education sectors. With current disability support resources already stretched out, will there ever be enough trained professionals for ID?

The Current State of ID Support

The two most recent and impactful factors behind this shortage are the labor crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. The labor crisis has specifically impacted many Direct Support Professionals (DSP) and those reliant on them. Though one of the most rewarding professions, data shows a high discrepancy between DSP turnovers versus onboarding. In a 2019 survey by the National Core Indicators, a 42.8% national turnover rate was observed in direct support roles. The most pressing reason behind this is non-competitive wages. The median hourly wage of $12 with minimal benefits, little training, high stress, and lack of professional recognition have forced many DSPs and others in similar roles to leave the field.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated logistic and training issues across ID support. For instance, as schools shifted to online learning, many school systems found themselves unable to cope with Special Education (SPED) needs. About one-third of all students in the U.S. have a specific learning disability, with 10% of all disabled students being diagnosed with autism. This often means that communication and support need a more hands-on approach coupled with a different learning pace. However, during the pandemic, these methods could not be transitioned online given the lack of SPED teachers. This meant that SPED students had to take remote classes with teachers who did not undergo the correct training.

What Efforts Are Underway to Address This Shortage?

Thanks to tireless lobbying from advocates, there are some efforts being done to remedy the current shortage. Because disability support careers are notoriously underpaid, private employers have begun to offer more promising employee benefits. These include higher starting salaries, annual perks, and bonus programs. These efforts aim to encourage professionals within the ID support industry to stay within their field as demand surges.

In a more macro approach, government bodies and learning institutions have also started applying initiatives to grow the workforce. Because those with ID often need assistance with community and government services, demand for social workers with specific training is projected to grow by 16% by 2026. To satisfy this need, licensed educational centers have begun offering classroom and online programs in social work. These courses integrate the nine Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) competencies, which teach social justice, proper individual assessments, policy practices, and ethical behavior. Professionals trained in these competencies are able to serve in the understaffed field of developmental disability.

Aside from this, more applicant preference is being afforded to teachers with SPED training. To stay competitive within the job market, graduates with bachelor’s degrees in education and state-issued teaching licenses are being encouraged to train in learning, mental, emotional, and physical disabilities. Since only 5,196 of all teachers fulfilling SPED needs don’t have full credentials, there are almost 39,000 openings currently available for those with complete training. By introducing more upskilling opportunities, local educational agencies hope to see more teachers filling SPED needs and staying in the field for longer.

Just as we are seeing an increase in people with disabilities, so should we see the growth of professionals in disability support. Because these professionals lay the foundation for healthy and productive lives among those with disabilities, it’s time we show them the support they deserve, too. Hopefully, by pushing for more job stability and training opportunities, we can stem the professional disability support shortage and create a universally secure future.

Exclusively written for ehvi.org
By Jane Veronica

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