Developing assistants management skills
by HCIL (Hampshire Center for Independent Living)
With little or no previous experience the disabled person seeking to live independently suddenly finds her/himself thrust into the role of employer. Not surprisingly the effective management skills essential to coping with the day-to-day matter of relating to her/his personal assistant are sometimes absent or under-developed.
The relationship between a disabled person and her/his personal assistants has a lot to do with simple human chemistry - but it isn't enough to leave it at that. Disabled people must adopt a responsible approach to the working relationship. It is not good enough to leave things to chance, or 'flying by the seat of one's pants'. The need for care and the control of care lie at the very heart of a disabled person's existence and we must do what we can to ensure success in our chosen lifestyle. This means that we need to be sensitive to the needs of personal assistants, both 'new' and long-standing personal assistants, and be constructive in the way we enable them to function.
Some common complaints among personal assistants are:
The lack of a specific job description - leading to unequal expectations. Personal assistant understanding that you need one thing and you believing that you are to receive something else. (Adjectives such as 'less' and 'more' are often appropriate here.)
The disabled person's inability to provide effective objective feed-back on performance. Personal assistants want and need something more than general 'complaints', 'bad temper', 'euphoric gratitude', or an (apparently) 'indifferent silence'. Caring is a job and all humans require ongoing job satisfaction, which only the employer (the disabled person) can provide.
Of course many disabled people have developed their own ways of dealing with these issues and it is not the purpose of this chapter to imply that the following is the only acceptable procedure. Rather it is to draw attention to a most important subject and to provide some ideas when considering it. Independent living advocates need to propose procedures that enable a disabled person to train and manage attendants more effectively. For this purpose we suggest the use of performance check lists.
These are compiled by the disabled person and outline specific job descriptions. Each check list details the steps in a given work routine and can include information how often routines are performed, the materials needed and set-up procedures.
Drawing up check lists:
Ongoing feedback: For reasons of job satisfaction it is very important that the personal assistant receives regular, constructive feedback, both positive and corrective, even after the initial training period. Check lists should be used on a continuing basis, even if only intermittently, by way of ensuring ongoing positive feedback and also providing a forum for ironing out small difficulties before they become big problems.
You may find all these suggestions frighteningly formal and perhaps contrary to your understanding of a disabled person/personal assistant relationship. You may even think that these suggestions are positively threatening, or damaging to a disabled person/personal assistant relationship. This is not the intention. The purpose is to provide a structure that can enhance communications between the disabled person and her/his personal assistant, encourage the very best from each other, and so promote job satisfaction on the part of the personal assistant. It is up to you whether you use this check list system or not, or maybe even devise your own.
The essential human chemistry: your tone, your attitude, respect, the way you interact, how you 'gel', etc., remain ingredients that only the two of you, as people, can deal with. If you don't 'get on' with each other, then a structure may enable you to survive, but it won't resolve the basic 'chemistry'.
Source Book Towards Independent Living,
Care Support Ideas, HCIL (Hampshire Center for Independent Living)
Address: Philip Mason
Hampshire Centre for Independent Living
4 Plantation Way, Whitehill, Bordon, Hants GU 359 HD, United Kingdom