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Quick Start Guide: Getting Started

So you’re ready to begin the process of hiring and managing your PA and anxious to get started. Great! As we were developing this Toolkit and thought of this Quickstart Manual, we wanted to make sure that while it was brief, it contained the basics needed to get you started. First, this Quickstart Guide helps you identify the tasks for which you need assistance, second, gives some tips and suggestions on how to find someone to supply that assistance and third, offers some ideas on how to communicate how we would like those tasks done. Of course, there are many other skills needed to be a good manager of our helpers, but without these three basics, we cannot even begin. So that is what we have included in this introductory map for managing PA care. Jump in and have fun!

We will say throughout this material, “Nothing about us without us”. This means we are demanding to be participants in the development of programs and services that affect our lives so intimately. For this slogan of the Independent Living Movement to have meaning, we must give our input and help where we can. As you train yourself (or ask for help in doing so), we hope you will keep in mind how your feedback will assist in the development of programs that help you and others who might not be able to speak out at this time. Here we go!

We have provided a few tools to help you begin the process of hiring and managing your PA. A Needs Assessment Form, some suggestions on placing your ads for a PA with some Sample Ads to inspire you, a List of Vermont Publications and an Attendant’s Task List Worksheet will get you off to a good start in directing him or her on how to care for your needs. We know you are eager to embark on this journey, but do take a moment and a deep breath. We have some points for you to keep in mind as you go forward. These tips come from other individuals who supervise and manage their own PA services. We hope they will help you as you recruit, hire and supervise your PAs.

The first point is often overlooked. Effective management of attendant services is all about communication between two people. While we offer communication skills as a separate training module, we feel it is essential to mention it here. We all tend to get caught up in the details about what we need and how to get those needs met. We frequently forget the first rung on that ladder is a person who, from the very first contact, needs to know he or she is seen and valued as a person. While we think about the tasks we need done and how to tell our PA to complete them, it is essential to remember this person makes it possible for us to have the life we want. Without him or her, we may not even be able to get out of bed in the morning. Your PA also needs to know you, your interests, needs and lifestyle to be able to do the work you need done. It helps to think about these things as you recruit, hire and train your staff.

Stop and think of the very real human being you are looking for and what you need him and her to do for you. Think what kind of communication and direction will help your PA understand the job you want done:

  • Take the time to think thoroughly about your needs: how do you want to spend your time and how the PA can help you achieve this.
  • Don’t be afraid to be creative and inject a little humor into your communication. One of our peers said, “Lousy work and low pay, but a pretty nice woman using a wheelchair needs some help to be more independent!” She got a great PA with a sense of humor.
  • As an employer you have responsibilities to your employee. Your PA has the right to expect that you will:
    1. Be considerate and respectful
    2. Consider his or her working environment. Your PA’s workplace (your home) should be reasonably neat, safe and properly equipped with what the PA needs to do the job for you. For example: The electric cords to your stereo/TV are strewn all over, and you are in a power chair and can roll over them easily so you never notice them. As a walking person, your PA could trip. It is also important that you have proper tools for housekeeping duties. If he or she is all set to clean your kitchen floor but the mop is in tatters and needs to be replaced, the PA cannot perform assigned duties. You may need to put shopping on your PA’s schedule or on yours.

You are looking for a special person but it may take awhile to find the right candidate for the job. When advertising and setting up interviews, think of your own safety. You may not know the people who respond to your ads. Set your interviews in a safe public space rather than in your home. When you get responses to your ad and you are ready to set up an interview time, be sure to

  • Ask the questions that will make or break the match between you and your assistant. It is better to clarify these expectations during the interview. Are there things you cannot negotiate? You have a pet that you will not consider giving up; are they allergic, do they like dogs? (Cats, birds, whatever). You smoke and are not ready to relinquish the habit just yet; can they tolerate cigarette smoke? These things are not negotiable. It is a waste of everyone’s time not to get these things in the open up front.
  • Establish clear boundaries right away. Is your food offered to them? Will they be able to use your car for their personal use?

Your PA can’t read your mind so

  • Communicate! They can’t possibly know how you like things done if you don’t tell them. (The sample task list included in this kit is a very useful tool for this.)
  • Be patient and give them the chance to learn their job with you.