SCSU /DRC Personal Assistance Informational Manual:
A Guide for Both Users of Personal Assistance and for Those Providing
Table of Contents
I. Personal Assistance Policy ……………………………………..2
What is a Personal Assistant?………………………………. 2
The Role of a Personal Assistant ………………………….. 2
Qualities of a Good Personal Assistant…………………….3
Hours a Personal Assistant Might Work……………………3 III. Sharing Perspectives
What Personal Assistance Support Means
to a Person with a Disability…………………………………..3
What it Means to be a Personal Assistant………………….4 IV. The Hiring Process--Helpful Tips
Questions to Ask Personal Assistance Users……………..6
Questions to Ask Prospective Personal Assistants………6
Additional Ideas………………………………………………….6 V. Suggestions on Training a Personal Assistant………………7 VI. Effective Communication
Once a Problem Occurs………………………………………..8
Communicating with Persons with Speech Difficulties.....9 VII. Addendum
Personal Assistance Needs Checklist………………………10
Personal Assistance Weekly Schedule……………………..12
Example of a PA Master Schedule…………………………...13
SCSU Personal Assistance Informational Manual:
A Guide for Both Users of Personal Assistance and for Those
Providing Personal Assistance
I. Personal Assistance Policy
Southern Connecticut State University’s Disability Resource Center
(DRC) assists students with recruiting and identifying a pool of potential
personal assistants. Personal assistants work directly for and are employed
and paid for by the student. As a service, the DRC will assist students by
accepting applications from persons interested in working as a personal
assistant. Applications will be kept in a binder at the DRC and will be made
available to students in need of personal assistance during DRC office
hours. The student using a personal assistant will then make direct contact
with the prospective personal assistant(s). Students who use a personal
assistant are responsible for securing, training, supervising and paying their
personal assistant. Upon request, the DRC will assist students with
learning this process. II. Introduction
What is a Personal Assistant (PA)?
A PA (sometimes called a personal care attendant or PCA) supports
people with disabilities to live more independent lives. A personal assistant
(PA) works directly for and is employed by the individual with a disability.
The Role of a PA
A common misunderstanding is that a personal assistant “takes care”
of people. This is not true. The person with the disability is the employer.
People may have some things they cannot do because of their disabilities.
The role of a personal assistant is to fill in the gaps so that the person with
a disability can do what everyone else does. The personal assistant may
be the “hands” to assist with eating, bathing and dressing; the “voice” to
help with communication when the disabled person is non-speaking; or the
“legs” to run errands.
Possible Tasks of a PA
Bathing and toileting
Dressing and grooming SCSU / DRC Personal Assistance Informational Manual – 2008/2009 2
Meal preparation or assistance with eating
Positioning or transferring to and from a wheelchair
Other duties as needed (see attached Personal Assistance Needs
Qualities of a Good PA are:
Willing to learn
Good sense of humor
Able to follow directions
Hours a PA Might Work
The hours for a personal assistant vary. Some students need just a
few hours in the morning to get out of bed and get ready for the day. Others
may need help in the afternoon or in the evening. The role of a personal
assistant is to make it possible for a person with a disability to live a life like
III. Sharing Perspectives
1 What Personal Assistance Support Means to a Person with a
Cathy Ludlum, a person who uses PA’s, says that the whole world
opened up for her when she began hiring personal assistants:
1 The source of this information was taken from the CT Association of Personal Assistants webpage: www.ctapa.org
SCSU / DRC Personal Assistance Informational Manual – 2008/2009 3
“For the first 26 years of my life, my mother was my only caregiver.
Everyday she got me up, drove me where I needed to go, helped me with
meals and paperwork and using the bathroom, and put me into bed at night.
With her assistance, I graduated from college and went to work. In spite of
my severe disability, she encouraged me to develop an independent spirit
and large dreams for my future.
But I knew that my mother would not be able to support me forever. I also knew that if I wanted to move into my own home, I would need to find
other people to assist me with all the things I could not do for myself. At first I was terrified. It seemed an incredible risk to entrust my survival, my
personal space, my van, and intimate knowledge about my life to people I
did not know.
Soon, however, I learned that I could find good, dependable people to
work for me. Since I understood what I needed, the most important thing
was to find people who were willing to listen to my directions. Further, by
spreading out my support needs among more people, I was safer than
when I was relying on only one person.
Then a funny thing happened. After so many years of having my mother
know literally everything I did, I started having a life that was truly my own. My assistant could come in, wash my hair, change my clothes, and take me
out in my van, and my mother didn’t have to be involved at all!
As my career expanded, I was invited to travel and speak about what I was learning. Personal assistants went with me. They supported me in
airplanes, hotels, and at conferences, as well as doing sightseeing. I was
far from home, and far from Mom; but I was safe, independent, and happy
because of the excellent support of my assistants.
When I moved into my own home in 1992, it became especially
important that I hire personal assistants who were reliable, and who would
enjoy being part of my life. People who thought of it simply as a "job"
usually moved on after a year or two. But those who really understood the
importance of what they were doing often stayed five years or more. Some
even became lifelong friends.”
What it Means to be a Personal Assistant
Debbie Barisano, a PA, says that she found a new profession she loves:
SCSU / DRC Personal Assistance Informational Manual – 2008/2009 4
“For twenty-five years I worked in a high paying job as a computer
programmer, but I was not happy. The job was very stressful and I was sick a lot. I had volunteered for two organizations working with people with disabilities, and I wanted to find a job in that area where I would be happy going to work every day.
I decided to enroll at Manchester Community College in the Disability Specialist Program. One day Cathy, a woman with a severe physical disability, came to my class and spoke about her life. She mentioned that she needed a personal assistant. I was interested, but at the same time I was scared. I had never done anything like that. I waited a month before calling Cathy, but I found out the first night that there was no reason to be nervous. She explained everything and I fell in love with the job. I have worked for Cathy since 1999, and I have loved going into work every day. I have only had two sick days, and I stopped needing some medications since I became a personal assistant.
I have had to make some sacrifices in order to work full time as a personal assistant. I moved into a smaller place with affordable housing, and I do not have extra spending money any more. I also do not have any health benefits. But I would not trade my new profession for the extra money.
The relationship between a personal assistant and an employer is unique. It is rewarding knowing that I am supporting Cathy so she can live an independent life like everyone else. I think the hardest part of being a personal assistant is the emotional side of the job. Cathy and I have developed a good working relationship, but we have also become good friends. Sometimes it is hard to see her struggle with obstacles in her life. Knowing that I can be there to support her is wonderful.
I may have opened doors for Cathy, but Cathy has also opened doors for me. She has taught me to be confident in myself, and has introduced me to many contacts that will be important in my future. I have been advocating for the profession of personal assistance with state legislators and agencies. I have started a new organization, the Connecticut Association of Personal Assistants, to provide a support system for personal assistants and to educate the public about our profession.”
SCSU / DRC Personal Assistance Informational Manual – 2008/2009 5
IV. The Hiring Process—Helpful Hints
Questions to Ask Users of Personal Assistance
1. What kind of assistance will you need? (See Personal Assistance Needs
Worksheet in addendum to ask more specific questions.) 2. Can we meet for a training session so you can show me exactly how to
assist you, i.e. toileting, transfers, positioning, operating equipment, etc.?
3. Do you mind if I ask some questions regarding your disability?
(Questions may vary depending on your knowledge of specific
disabilities and your level of curiosity).
4. How much do you pay per hour, what happens if you only need me for a
portion of an hour? How often, and on what day do I get paid? 5. What is your method for keeping records of the hours I work? 6. Can you clarify times, meeting locations and a start-up date? Questions to Ask a Prospective PA
1. Are you still available for the days and hours written on your
application? Has anything in your schedule changed since you filled out
2. Tell me about any previous experience you have had working with
persons with disabilities.
3. I will need assistance with the following (share list of your needs). Will
you be able to fulfill these tasks?
4. (If interviewee is a commuting student) How will you get to school/work if
you have a problem with your primary transportation?
5. If your schedule allows, would you be willing to work extra hours in a
situation where another personal assistant is unable to make it in?
6. Do you have any questions about what the job requires?
7. Do you have any further questions you would like to ask me regarding
1. Have a set of questions to ask a prospective personal assistant when
you call them.
2. Take notes or ask someone to so that you can record information about
their availability, experience, and ability to do what you need. SCSU / DRC Personal Assistance Informational Manual – 2008/2009 6
3. Some students find it helpful to develop a brief job description that can
be shared with a prospective personal assistant.
4. The clearer you are on your expectations, the less likely there will be
5. The phone is a useful screening device so that you do not have to
interview everyone in person. You should try to ask open-ended
questions that allow you to get a sense of whether or not you can
comfortably relate to the person.
6. Develop a system for record keeping. You need to keep time sheets
and a method of documenting money paid to your PA(s), such as
receipts if you are not using checks. If you do use checks to pay your
PA(s), make sure to record on the memo line of the check the period of
time and the number of hours compensated. For example: 9/6/08
through 9/20/08 – 10 hours.
Note: If you need assistance with learning the skills of any part of the
hiring process, record keeping or communicating with your employees,
please contact the DRC at 203-392-6828.
V. Suggestions on Training Your Personal Assistant
1. Begin by explaining your disability in as much detail as possible.
2. Explain any technical words that you use; be as descriptive as you can.
3. To start each training session, present an overview of what you wish to
teach. At the end of the session, summarize what you have taught. If
you have a second session, briefly review what you have taught in the
first session and then move onto new material.
4. Be sure to emphasize safety precautions and what to do in the case of
5. If you have life support equipment or require universal precautions,
explain their appropriate use in detail and what to do in the event of an
6. When giving instructions involving a procedure, such as transferring out
of the wheelchair, describe each step of the technique.
7. Do not assume that your personal assistant will understand your
explanations. Ask for feedback and encourage questions.
8. When you explain any procedure or routine to your employee, describe
why it is important to you that something is done in a certain way or at a
SCSU / DRC Personal Assistance Informational Manual – 2008/2009 7
9. Be consistent in your explanations, and if you change your procedure,
explain why you have changed it.
10. Be patient. Your personal assistant probably will not get all your
directions right the first time.
11. Try to be aware of your personal assistant’s feelings as you train. Try to
be conscious of how much new knowledge the personal assistant can
learn effectively. Some individuals may be able to learn a whole
procedure at once, while others may require more gradual training
12. If possible, have a friend, family member, or previous personal assistant
demonstrate techniques and procedures to your new employee.
13. Give your employee both positive feedback and constructive feedback.
Your employee won’t know they are doing something wrong unless you
provide appropriate feedback.
a. When your employee does a procedure incorrectly, bring it to
their attention and patiently remind him or her of the correct
b. When your employee does a procedure correctly, compliment
him or her. Compliments or a “thank you” reinforce the
behavior you wish to see in your new employee.
VI. Effective Communication
Open communication with your personal assistant is your first defense
against misunderstandings and disagreements. Appropriately addressing
difficult or uncomfortable situations as they come up will prevent them from
snowballing into something more serious. However, when the issue
becomes more serious, it is very important that you make every effort to
resolve it as soon as possible. If a Problem Occurs
1. Schedule an extra appointment with the personal assistant. Be
prepared to pay him/her for this time if necessary.
2. Prior to the meeting write down your concerns so that you can organize
your thoughts and ensure that you don’t forget what you want to address.
SCSU / DRC Personal Assistance Informational Manual – 2008/2009 8
3. Discuss your concerns. Be aware of your emotions and how they affect
what you are trying to say. Anger, sarcasm and defensiveness shut
4. Use “I” statements. This shows that you are taking ownership of your
own feelings, and helps the other person understand where you are
coming from. (Example: “I feel frustrated about your late arrival every
day. It makes me anxious because I worry that I won’t be on time for
class.”) Avoid blaming, as this will put the personal assistant
immediately on the defensive.
5. Let the personal assistant have a chance to voice his/her
concerns. Listen actively and avoid interrupting. 6. Be willing to examine yourself and your role in the conflict. 7. Come to a final agreement about the problem. Put it in writing so that
each person leaves with the same understanding of the resolution. If you find that you are not able to work the problem out on your own, there
are DRC staff available to assist. A supervised meeting facilitated by an
neutral third party may be helpful in resolving the conflict. Communicating with Persons Who Have Speech Difficulties 1. Give your complete attention to the person who has difficulty speaking. 2. Be patient. Don’t correct and don’t speak for the person. Allow extra
3. Give help when needed.
4. Keep your manner encouraging.
5. Try to ask questions that can be answered with short answers or a nod
or shake of the head.
6. If you have difficulty understanding, don’t pretend. Repeat what you do
understand. The person’s reaction will cue you. If you are stuck on a
specific word, ask the person to spell it for you; sometimes all you need
are the first few letters before you get it. If you are still unable to
understand what is being said, ask the person to try using another word.
7. Usually in time, you will become more familiar with the person’s speech
pattern and you will develop greater ability to understand.
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A. Personal Assistance Needs Worksheet
PERSONAL ASSISTANCE NEEDS WORKSHEET
This sheet is for your use in beginning to calculate the amount of time
necessary for specific needs and activities that you would like a personal
assistant to do. When estimating the amount of time, it is wise to err on the
side of allowing for more time.
Estimate Amount # Times Per Task # Times Per
of Time Day Week
Dressing Undressing Braces or prosthesis on/off Other Cleaning Duties: Change linens, make bed Clean room Cleaning personal appliances Laundry Dishes Take garbage out Other chores Physical Assistance: Transferring Getting to/from class Getting to/from meals SCSU / DRC Personal Assistance Informational Manual – 2008/2009 10