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SCSU /DRC Personal Assistance Informational Manual:

    A Guide for Both Users of Personal Assistance and for Those Providing

    Personal Assistance

    Table of Contents

    I. Personal Assistance Policy ……………………………………..2

II. Introduction

     What is a Personal Assistant?………………………………. 2

     The Role of a Personal Assistant ………………………….. 2

     Possible Tasks…………………………………………………..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

     Resolving Conflicts……………………………………………..8

     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

     Running errands

     Other duties as needed (see attached Personal Assistance Needs


    Qualities of a Good PA are:

     Good listener





     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

    everyone else.

    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:

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 ProcessHelpful 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

    the application?

    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

    my disability?

    Additional Ideas

    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

    any misunderstandings.

    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

    an emergency.

    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

    specific time.

    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

    Resolving Conflicts

     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

    down communication.

    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.

SCSU / DRC Personal Assistance Informational Manual 2008/2009 9

VII. Addendum

    A. 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

    Personal Hygiene:


    Bed bath

    Tub bath


    Hair styling

    Brushing teeth


    Applying make-up


    Dressing Routines:

    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

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