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TX: 21.10.03 – WHAT IS A PA?
PRESENTER: PETER WHITE



WHITE
Now not only chief executives have PAs, many people with disability have personal assistants who because of the severity of someone's disability might need to help them with a whole range of tasks, anything from assisting them chair an international conference to undressing and getting into bed. They can be on duty 24 hours a day but disabled people and their personal assistants have a complex relation just because of the disparity of these tasks, which has to be handled with tact and imagination on both sides. Getting it right can obviously be quite tricky, it has to be made clear what's expected of a PA and how much, for example, where they're helping at work or in social situations, they're expected perhaps to fade into the background. Well in a moment we'll be talking to the author of a users' guide to managing your PA. But first we hear from PAs, would be PAs and their disabled employers, recorded at a residential course in Suffolk organised by a young PA user and sponsored by the European Year of Disabled People.

VOX POPS
I heard about it through six form and there's four of us that have come in a group and we want to know what it's like to work with people with different disabilities.

Just being here the first night I've got a lot more experience because I understand it, they do have their own views and opinions and that they've got the right to display those. I've gained that much more respect for them because I understand that now.

He's helped me to do college, to go shopping, go clubbing, do all sorts of different things.

ACTUALITY
Question number one. What makes you think that you'd be a good PA? Contestant number one please.

My name's Pat PA. I don't know really why you want to choose me, I mean basically I'm just up for doing whatever you want really.

VOX POPS
If Katie is with friends and I don't know them and she's having a chat with them or a meeting I would just fade into the background and if she needs my help she'll say but otherwise I'll wait for any instructions.

JO REID
I'm Jo Reid, my job is specifically focussed upon young people with disabilities. It's really important to define this role and be clear about the role of a personal assistant. I think for many people it's who they know in their network and part of what this weekend is about is bringing it into a more professional light and standing.

VOX POPS
A friend of mine PA-ed for me once and we're not friends anymore because of the fact that I didn't like what she was doing and it was very difficult for me to tell her that.

I've been PA-ing as a friend of Kieran's for all of my life I guess. Kieran was there when I was born and we're more like brothers and so the role I guess is already completely blurred in that I just have a love for him and he has a love for me and we look after each other.

ACTUALITY
Okay, next question. Describe your dream day with me.

Bath about 7.30, breakfast at 8.00. Speech therapy at 10.00. Dinner at …

ROBOTIC VOICE
I don't use voluntary assistance, it is too important.

ACTUALITY
…and bed about 8 o'clock so you can get yourrest and get better.

JO REID
I think it's very important that people are paid, this is a professional role, it needs to be seen as such and valued as such.

ACTUALITY
…ultimately it's down to you, it depends what you fancy doing. I think start about 1 o'clock.

VOX POPS
Maybe if sometimes you don't feel like doing something you have to remember that you're in a situation where you're working and it's not just you sitting at home relaxing, which can be difficult sometimes because your brain slips into this comfortable mode and you have to remember no I'm at work.

ACTUALITY
… taxi, get back, roll into yours, get some sleep and see you same time, same place 1 o'clock the next day.

VOX POPS
Quite often, particularly when we're shopping, we go up to the counter and PA user hands over money, the change gets given back to me, even though that person is there waiting for the change. I suppose sometimes it can have an effect on my social life if she doesn't want to go out in the evening, yet I know everyone else is out in the pub and I want to be there, sometimes that can be a problem but generally not.

Before I thought it was quite positive but now you've got both the negative and the positives, so it's kind of hitting us.

I think I'd want to have more experience in being a personal assistant before I'd consider doing it like full time properly.

WHITE
Views from a course of would be PAs at Thetford in Suffolk. Well joining me to discuss some of those points is Sian Vasey, a user herself and director of Ealing Centre for Independent Living.

Sian, first of all, just spell out for us why this relationship is so crucial for you, for the disabled person.

VASEY
The relationship when it's in public, I think, creates for the disabled person certain problems and it's very important that those issues are sorted out. It's important because you have to have the PA with you for your physical needs and how do you present that person in social situations? That's really the question that you have to grapple with.

WHITE
So is this when it becomes difficult? I mean we heard mention of when the PA becomes a friend but presumably because most people don't take a friend into work with them this is something you've got to dispel to some extent?

VASEY
Yes absolutely, I mean you have to educate the people you know really. This isn't my friend, this is my assistant and they have to be there. Of course it gets more complex than that because you can become very friendly with your PA, so instantly you get into the realms of difficulty. But broadly I think a lot of people, disabled people, are very concerned that when they're in their social environment with their friends that the space isn't taken over by PAs.

WHITE
So what are third parties supposed to do, who often do - you probably understand - find it a potentially difficult situation, do they ignore this other person completely for instance?

VASEY
Well yes, I mean it is a fairly challenging situation I agree. The thing about it is you have to unlearn, I think, a lot of the social skills that you've spent years trying to pick up and understand that that PA person is really quite happy to melt into the background and they know that that's their job to do that, presuming of course that the disabled person has prepared them sufficiently.

WHITE
So from the point of view - from your point of view is this a relationship which is becoming easier because one would assume that knowledge about disability and these kind of issues is getting greater, there's much more discussion of it?

VASEY
Well strange to say I have found more and more in public places, in service providing places, for instance, airports come to mind, I've noticed the tendency to be ignored more by people recently. Why this is I don't know. But it's part of the kind of undermining of disabled people that does go on and this issue of PAs in social situations is part of that whole arena. And it's an issue because disabled people must have a presence and that presence can be blanked out.

WHITE
I'm going to stop you there, it has scratched the surface really - Sian Vasey. And her book is called A Rough Guide to Managing Personal Assistants and you can find details about this on our website.



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