Creating a Training Program for Informal Personal Assistants
This information is available in PDF format upon request.
Why It Matters: Filling Important Gaps
If you’re a person with a disability, you may need some help with daily activities, like cooking, bathing or dressing. A paid personal assistant, or formal PA, can provide this support, which makes it possible to live in the community.
But what happens if the agency that pays this formal PA limits the services and number of hours they can provide? This often happens, and when it does, most people with disabilities turn to friends and family members to fill the gap. We call these unpaid helpers “informal” PAs.
Informal PAs are usually highly motivated and personally invested in helping the person with a disability (also called a consumer). But they express doubts about their skills and high levels of stress and anxiety about providing care.
In this project, we developed a training that gives informal PAs the same kind of information and skills that formal PAs are required to have. With this new knowledge, informal PAs can safely assist consumers in their daily lives. They can help consumers avoid disruptions in community living, like going to the hospital. Plus, they may help consumers increase their community participation.
The Training Content: Meeting Most Important Needs
This training for informal PAs is based on a training we developed previously for formal, paid PAs. Most of the skills that an informal PA needs are the same. Before we created the training, we also asked consumers which topics were most important to them when working with a friend or family member. We used their responses to select 1 topics for the training:
- Health and Wellness
- Secondary Conditions
- Physical Disabilities and Conditions
- Body Mechanics and Transfers
- Recognizing Abuse and Neglect
- Psychological and Emotional Conditions
- Effective Communication
- Assistive Technology
- Safety and Emergency Planning
- Transportation and Travel
“If there is a certain thing that I am struggling with at home, I can pull up the online course very easily for a reminder or maybe review something again if I wasn’t 100% sure.”
- Informal Personal Assistant
Who We Train
In this research project, we are training people in pairs (also called dyads)– the consumer and the informal PA. It’s important for consumers to learn new skills, too, so they can direct their own care in partnership with their friend or family member.
We are training a total of 50 dyads (100 people) to gain information on how well the training works for both consumers and informal PAs. In this test of the training, we are focusing on people who are newly injured or at risk for institutionalization. That way we can analyze how the training affects their community living and participation.
How We Train
The training is conducted in small groups including consumers and their informal PAs. For each topic or “module,” the trainer presents information about the subject, gives examples, and shows videos. Training participants practice the new skills in class and take quizzes to determine what they know before and after the training.Here’s an example of what one training module includes:
Body Mechanics and Transfers
- Verbal instruction and handout explaining techniques
- Video: “Sliding Board and Stand Pivot”
- Hands-on practice with equipment (transfer bench, Hoyer lift, gait belt, etc.)
- Demonstrate skills with immediate feedback
Our goal is to empower people with disabilities to participate in their communities. We will evaluate how effective this training is to make any needed revisions in the course. Then we can offer the training to people around the United States – consumers and their friends and family – who can benefit from gaining specialized skills and knowledge to provide personal assistance.
Project Investigator At the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis: Jessica Dashner, OTD, OTR/L
The contents of this fact sheet were developed under a grant from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR grant number 90RT5015). NIDILRR is a Center within the Administration for Community Living (ACL), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). These contents do not necessarily represent the policy of NIDILRR, ACL, or HHS, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.