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Accessing Personal Assistance Services in the Workplace: Struggles and Successes

Article Summary

Despite the passage and implementation of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employment rates remain at 30% for individuals with disabilities and even lower for some segments of this population. This compares very unfavorably to a 95% employment rate for the overall population. Personal Assistance Services ( PAS) have been investigated as a means to provide greater access to competitive employment for individuals with disabilities. PAS has previously referred to assistance with domestic tasks such as dressing, hygiene, cleaning, and cooking. Although the ADA addresses reasonable accommodations for work-related tasks, this is not the case for accomplishing personal care tasks in the workplace. The World Institute on Disability's (WID) Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) on PAS began to study the role of these services in the workplace. Specifically, the study looked at the following:

  1. What are the issues that affect PAS in the workplace?
  2. What factors related to the employer and employee affect PAS?
  3. Which works better for the consumer with disabilities, formal (paid) or informal (volunteer) assistants?
  4. How do consumers request PAS in the workplace?
  5. What needs to be done to provide increased access to PAS?

Information was collected from three focus groups composed of individuals with disabilities who had utilized worksite PAS at some time. The current article includes an overview of the 13 male and 3 female participants including information about their age, race, disability, salary range, and experiences with PAS. They represented diverse mix of demographic features with the exception of gender.

Feedback from the participants produced the following themes:

  1. Participants experienced explicit and/or perceived discrimination.
  2. Vague procedures for requesting PAS sometimes resulted in the consumer needing to educate supervisors, etc. about PAS and then negotiate for specific accommodations.
  3. Successful PAS relationships tended to be informal and based on knowing who to ask for help
  4. Participants were divided as to the use of consistent and separate PAS assistants between work and home. Infrequency of need for PAS made finding willing and qualified assistants hard to find.
  5. Self-identification and self-disclosure of a disability were difficult first steps prior to determining what PAS were needed.
  6. PAS relationships were most effective when consumers hired their own assistants.
  7. Participants stressed the need for workers with disabilities to know their rights as well as for employers to be much better informed about PAS.

The authors close by discussing the limitations of this study along with directions for additional research regarding PAS in the workplace. These would include improved data as to the financial benefits to expanding the role and use of PAS assistants in the workplace.