Our projects highlight people with disabilities and those who provide support, throughout the United States and abroad, as they pursue full, productive, and integrated lives in their communities. We also consider related projects, from nonprofit and for-profit organizations, that promote social justice, health and well-being, and education for all people.
When Hurricane Katrina struck the city of New Orleans on August 29, 2005, hundreds of people with developmental disabilities were displaced. Roads were severely crowded or impassable. Cell phones didn't work. Many didn't know where their family members were. And yet direct support professionals stayed with those they supported and made sure everyone evacuated to higher ground. For months, these dedicated women and men, working long hours for low pay, put others before themselves, providing care and support with improvised resources. Volunteers of America, a large provider of community living services for people with disabilities, wanted to explore, share, and learn from the stories of those who stayed together and weathered the storm.
Researchers from the University of Minnesota's Research and Training Center on Community Living conducted interviews and focus groups with direct support professionals (DSPs) in New Orleans. A report was produced describing the dedication of the DSPs that continuously supported individuals with disabilities throughout the disasters of hurricanes Katrina and Rita and their aftermath. Information from the focus groups was used to identify individuals and stories for a documentary on the same topic. A director and small crew interviewed over 30 DSPs and some of the people they supported, along with staff of Volunteers of America and state government, to explore the dedication of DSPs during this difficult time. A composer was hired to score the program, narration was scripted to connect the stories, a website was designed, and a 45-minute broadcast documentary was created. "Higher Ground" has screened at film festivals, theaters in New Orleans, and on television. Hundreds of smaller screenings have been held at conferences and workshops, exploring both the dedication of DSPs and lessons for emergency preparedness.