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DSP Advisory Group From TN DIDD Helps Initiate Transformation

Submitted By: Robin Wilmoth, Director of Workforce Development, TN Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

The Direct Support Workforce Advisory Group from the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) helps us hear the voice of direct support professionals (DSPs) in Tennessee and bring their voices to a statewide level. DIDD wanted to learn from DSPs about what was working, what wasn’t, and the critical areas of hands-on improvement needed. Then, DIDD compiled a paper to bring forward these strategies and shared it to offer insight into what is on the minds of valued DSPs and work together to grow the value and work of DSPs in Tennessee. 

“I feel I am now an advocate for DSPs everywhere.”

DSP in Tennessee

The Impact Of The Advisory Group 

This initiative has brought forth the voice of the Tennessee DSP. This is not a group of administrative staff stating what they feel needs to be addressed; it is the actual DSPs doing the work every day. While many thoughts are the same, it is the word of the DSPs. From their work, all stakeholders can see in one place what is being said by those tenured DSPs. They share what can be started to improve the role of a DSP and view them as a valued part of the entire picture. 

It has created a centralized place for DSPs to speak for themselves and their peers. The Advisory Group allows them to bring forward what they felt was important and would make the most impact in a working DSP’s everyday life and role. DIDD will be able to carry on this initiative for years to come, looking at achievable outcomes while always being mindful of extra time and potential funding required. 

“I am thrilled to be part of this and knowing I am being recognized by the agency I work for.”

DSP in Tennessee
A photo of TN IDD staff lined up, smiling, at a conference.

Steps To Implement A Similar Group

Organizations need to read the final strategies to create a similar Advisory Group and implement them in a way that works for their agency and DSPs. There is no ‘one size fits all’ answer, but this will start communicating what is needed. 

More than a general employee survey is required – you need to hear from DSPs. Everyone wants the same thing, which is the best life for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, but to live those best lives, you have to consider the people who help make that happen daily. 

Here are specific steps that DIDD has taken in establishing and maintaining its Advisory Group: 

  1. Work with providers to identify DSPs to be part of the group based on their excellent work within their agency. 
  2. Create regional advisory groups in as many geographical areas as you have since there may be differences in roles and descriptions. 
  3. Set up quarterly meetings with these DSPs and start discussions about what is essential and what needs immediate attention. 
  4. Share information statewide with all regional groups 
  5. Create and define strategies of importance that can be achieved 
  6. Create a work paper to share with all stakeholders about the final work. 

Challenges In Establishing A DSP Advisory Group

It will require some funding to recognize those DSPs that make the extra effort to improve the lives of people with IDD and create a more robust agency. It will require time and dedication from all involved with the strategies, but the end effect will be more valued and content DSPs, which will help create a better life for the people they support. 

In the end, if a person feels valued and makes a difference in their own lives as well as the lives of others, they can grow and develop. They can go to their home each night, being able to pay their bills and be viewed as a valued employee in the workforce, which will overcompensate for any front-end costs. 


The Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) is the state agency responsible for administering services and support to Tennesseans with intellectual and developmental disabilities. This is done in several ways, including Medicaid waiver Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS), state-operated ICF/IIDs, and the Family Support Program. DIDD administers services directly or through contracts with community providers. DIDD strives to partner with the people it supports and their family members and friends. 

You can learn more about DIDD by visiting the agency’s website: 

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Since 1969, CQL | The Council on Quality and Leadership has been a leader in working with human service organizations and systems to continuously define, measure, and improve quality of life and quality of services for youth, adults, and older adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and psychiatric disabilities. CQL offers accreditation, training, certification, research, and consultation services to agencies that share our vision of dignity, opportunity, and community for all people.