COVID-19 and the DSP brings New ways to support Adults with Disabilities

Special Care report for August 2020 by Ellyn Novak Hefner

The City Sentinel’s Continuing Series on STABLE and ‘Special Care’ issues.
The pandemic has pushed Oklahomans to look at the “new normal”. With the necessary changes to keep Oklahomans safe, the “new normal” has pushed us to look at doing things differently, pushing ourselves to continue our jobs but in a different way.

My friend Robin Arter, executive director at Think Ability, Inc., has the privilege to serve as the Executive Director of the group which provides supports and services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

They support 106 individuals with intellectual disabilities and employ 150 + to get the job done. The majority, of course, are direct support professionals. Robin tells us how they continue to do their job as DSPs in a different way to support these Oklahomans.

Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) are employees who work directly with people with intellectual/developmental/physical disabilities with the goal of assisting the individual to become integrated into his/her community or the least restrictive environment and to live their best life.

The individual’s interdisciplinary team works with the individual and their family to discover and identify what is important to and what is important for that individual, then outcomes are developed to challenge progress in these interests. 

The DSP implements these outcomes and more! The DSP assists with all activities of daily living to include personal hygiene tasks, dressing, medication administration, housekeeping, meal prep, personal and grocery supply shopping, transportation, budgeting, budgeting to save for bigger purchases/dreams in OKSTABLE accounts.

Doug Jackson is the Deputy Director of the national ABLE program known as STABLE Account, working with Oklahoma to administer the in-state OK STABLE plan. Jackson explains “Providers that support people with disabilities in day-to-day life are often involved in assisting these individuals in money management. This is why OK STABLE is so important.”

Jackson went on to explain the historic problem that provider agencies face, “In the past, providers helped those they were serving ‘spend down’ money to ensure publics benefits were protected from the eligibility asset limits. Spending down money is simply a waste of this person’s resources so they qualify for benefits like Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). 

OK STABLE allows a provider to support the people they serve in preserving their money and, even more, in attaining financial goals such as saving their money toward short-term and long-term goals. This is how a provider can truly help a person achieve financial independence.”

Robin explains that DSPs do all of this while following all physician orders and protocols, and the recommendations/plans of other professionals such as the physical, occupational and speech therapist, nutrition plans, mealtime challenges as well as implement positive behavior supports.
DSPs share a passion for promoting and protecting the rights of people with disabilities and advocate often in support. 

“The DSPs are challenged in current events, not only by the pandemic, but to continue to respect important to and important for each individual we support through the pandemic. The DSPs, responsible to implement the individual plan, find most if not all require increased socialization opportunities in the communities we live in. 

Here are some of the creative ways we have met the challenge:
• Instead of eating out, we drive through and picnic, everyone chooses their own restaurant!
• We go on walks and sometimes enjoy a nature scavenger hunt,
• We go on drives and enjoy a community scavenger hunt.
• We use laptops and order personal supplies and groceries online, sometimes we use curbside pickup and sometimes we use an online service and get packages delivered to our homes – it’s always exciting to get a package delivery!
• We’ve enjoyed more card & board games and jigsaw puzzles together
• We’ve learned to face-time with family and friends,
• We watch our church service on tv or online

All this while promoting social distancing, and modeling, teaching, assisting, and encouraging hand washing, sanitizing our homes and vehicles and wearing masks.
There are 24 individuals supported in residential settings across Oklahoma that have tested positive for COVID-19, sadly one death. This is an ongoing challenge that DSPs across Oklahoma continue to rise to meet while making a world of difference in people’s lives.

Robin Arter’s final words for us:
“If you are inspired to become a Direct Support Professional I encourage you to search for a Developmental Disability Provider Agency in your area, apply for employment or to volunteer your time. You’ll find it is amazing to influence positive experiences in a person’s life!”

NOTES: For further information, check out: Robin Arter, Executive Director , Think Ability, Inc. at this website: And, as always, contact Ellyn Novak Hefner, ChSNP, Special Needs Consultant via email at This story is part of The City Sentinel’s continuing series on special care in Oklahoma.