Our top tips for working with a personal assistant

Having a personal assistant (PA) can help you work, socialise, and travel – but it can also be quite overwhelming to start with. We spoke to some of the Back Up team to learn their top tips for working with PAs.

1. Make things easier for yourself

In the early days, it can feel like there is a stranger in your home, which may be incredibly frustrating. It can take a lot of patience to manage your new PAs, but you need to remember that they’re there to help you live your life. Accept that there will be tricky days, so you should make things as easy on yourself as possible – there are always people you can talk to if you’re feeling low. You can get in touch with our Outreach and Support team if you need to talk about having a PA. We also offer a range of courses to help you build up your confidence after spinal cord injury and boost your independence.

It’s also good to understand what support you are entitled to. SIA can help you with specialist advice on funding your care package.

2. Have a routine in place

Try to keep your daily routine as regular as possible. This will make sure your PA knows exactly how to help you. Managing your care can often feel like a job, and a regular routine can make it less stressful.

Aim to have the same routine every day – Write down everything you do in a step by step fashion. This will help your PA memorise what they need to do faster.

3. Give yourself purpose

You may feel like your life is out of your control. Having a job or keeping busy doing things that you like to do prevents your care plan from becoming the main focus of your day.

If you need support building up your confidence to get into employment or volunteering, check out our Back Up to Work course.

4. Outline your expectations

Whether you’re hiring your own PA or meeting a new one from an agency, it’s essential to outline what you expect from them as soon as possible. This will make sure your working relationship gets off on the right foot, and your PA will understand what they need to do from the start.

Arrange to have a call with your PA before you meet them for the first time. By doing this you’ll be able to get to know each other and ask any questions. It can also help to send them the step-by-step routine you wrote down, so they know exactly what your usual day is like before giving them an in-person induction.

Ella, a wheelchair user who has a personal assistant, answering the phone in the Back Up office

Don’t forget that Back Up is here if you need to talk

5. Know your boundaries

Communicate with your PA when you want to be left alone. Don’t be afraid to make your voice heard and say when you need space. Remember, it’s up to you to decide when you want your PA around. Do what works best for you.

Your family may also feel uncomfortable having your PA around all the time. If possible, factor in some time alone with your family now and then. This will also give your PA some time to themselves too.

6. Be a problem solver

Prepare in advance for things that might not go to plan. If you usually get your PA’s attention at night by calling them, consider setting up a buzzer or doorbell system in case you can’t get through to their phone.

You should also remember your PA is human too. Everyone makes mistakes! Don’t be afraid to double-check things with them. If you’re going out for the day, ask to check that your bags have been properly packed with the right equipment you need, like catheters and medication.

7. Reach out to someone

Having a PA can be tough. It can be even harder if your friends and family don’t understand what it’s like. Remember that Back Up is there if you need to talk to someone who has had similar experiences. Our mentors can offer practical advice and support on topics related to care and PAs.

If you want to hear more fantastic stories from Back Up – including our monthly newsletter – be sure to keep in touch with us!