Contact FutureLearn for Support
Skip main navigation
We use cookies to give you a better experience, if that’s ok you can close this message and carry on browsing. For more info read our cookies policy.
We use cookies to give you a better experience. Carry on browsing if you're happy with this, or read our cookies policy for more information.

Skip to 0 minutes and 5 secondsMost people who rely on a personal assistant for personal support will have to give up some privacy as a result, but your confidentiality is still important and disabled employers will have some matters which they prefer remain confidential. From our research, we've come up with different PA types. In reality, personal assistant's relationships can look like a number of different types, or a combination of types.

Skip to 0 minutes and 31 secondsSo here's the exercise: read through these types and think of a positive aspect and a negative aspect of each one. The first type of PA relationship is when the PA acts as staff. Their life is quite separate from the disabled person; they may take a more subservient role; they do what they are told; they don't make suggestions; they don't share their private lives. Sometimes the metaphor of the PA being a robot is used. Sometimes the idea of the PA operating is the disabled person's arms and legs - they're there to do tasks. But if this verges into master and servant ,it can become demeaning and difficult for the worker.

Skip to 1 minute and 13 secondsThe second type of PA relationship is when the PA is a professional. Professionals have very clear roles and responsibilities. When we interact with professionals, we expect them to complete their duties to a higher standard. Professional relationships focus on tasks and tend not to involve social activities, especially outside of paid hours. It's possible for professionals to work closely together and yet know very little about one another's personal lives. For example, we wouldn't expect to know much about a professional's family life, their hobbies, or even their sense of humour. We expect professionals to act in a polite but formal way and they expect the same of us.

Skip to 1 minute and 58 secondsIt can be difficult to think that an assistant is treating you just as a job but it makes the relationship less complicated. The third type of PA relationship is where the PA is a colleague. Colleagues work together towards common aims, in this case promoting the independence of the disabled person. They're team members. Colleagues often have different skills. We might not always get on with the people we work with but that's okay. The primary aim of colleagues is to do the best possible job they can. We may get on with our colleagues and have things in common with them. We may share opinions, or have common interests.

Skip to 2 minutes and 36 secondsAs such, colleagues may socialise together but this tends to be on rare or special occasions. The fourth type of PA relationship is where the PA is a paid friend. Paid friends emphasise the social and emotional aspects of PA relationships. Tasks are important but they're only part of the activities, which include companionship. What's important is that tasks are completed in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Paid friends tend to know more about one another, and even take an interest in one another's lives. Paid friends can be a rewarding social and emotional relationship but they're not for everyone. It's important to realise, whether or not you want to share parts of your life with the person you work with.

Skip to 3 minutes and 23 secondsDo you want them to know about your family, your values? These kinds of things are what makes friendships so rewarding but they're also what makes friendship more complicated. The fifth type of PA relationship is where the PA is like family. Family-like relationships are marked by deep affection and a mutual sense of duty. This kind of PA relationship may mirror real family relationships. We may feel that the person we work for, or who works for us, is more like a parent, or child, or a sibling to us. As with all PA relationships, tasks are important.

Skip to 3 minutes and 57 secondsIn family like relationships but family- like relationships also prioritise other aspects, such as the well-being of the person we work with, their aspiration for the future, and ensuring that the PA relationship lasts longer than other types of PA relationship. The danger of a family-type relationship is that one party, often the disabled person, can end up getting drawn into the life problems of the assistant, or vice versa. This can become very difficult and potentially conflictual.

Types of personal assistant

Most people who rely on a personal assistant for personal support will have to give up some privacy, as a result. But your confidentiality is still important, and disabled employers will have some matters which they prefer remain confidential.

From our research, we have come up with different “PA Types”.

Exercise: Read through these ‘types’ and think of a positive and a negative aspect of each.

Type 1 - The staff PA

The first type of PA relationship is where the PA act as staff. Their life is quite separate from the disabled person. They may take a more subservient role. They do what they are told. They do not make suggestions. They do not share their private lives. Sometimes the metaphor of the PA being a robot is used – sometimes the idea of the PA operating as the disabled person’s arms and legs. They are there to do tasks. But if this verges into ‘master and servant’, it can become demeaning and difficult for the worker.

Type 2 - The Professional PA

The second type of PA relationship is where the PA is a professional. Professionals have very clear roles and responsibilities. When we interact with professionals, we expect them to complete their duties to a high standard. Professional relationships focus upon tasks and tend not to involve social activities – especially outside of paid hours. It is possible for professionals to work closely together and yet know very little about one another’s personal lives, For example, we would not expect to know much about a professional’s family life, their hobbies, or even their sense of humour. We expect professionals to act in a polite but formal way, and they expect the same of us. It can be difficult to think that an assistant is treating you just as a job, but it makes the relationship less complicated.

Type 3 - The Colleague PA

The third type of PA relationship is where the PA is a colleague. Colleagues work together towards common aims, in this case promoting the independence of the disabled person. They are team members. Colleagues often have different skills. We may not always get on with the people we work with, but that’s OK: the primary aim of colleagues is to do the best possible job they can. We may get on with our colleagues, and have things in common with them. We may share opinions or have common interests. As such, colleagues may socialise together, but this tends to be on rare or special occasions.

Type 4 - The Paid friend PA

The fourth type of PA relationship is where the PA is a paid friend. Paid friends emphasise the social and emotional aspects of PA relationships. Tasks are important, but they are only part of the activities, which include companionship. What is important is that tasks are completed in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Paid friends tend to know more about one another, and even take an interest in one another’s lives. Paid friends can be a rewarding social and emotional relationship, but they are not for everyone. It is important to realise whether or not you want to share parts of your life with the person you work with – do you want them to know about your family? Your values? These kind of things are what make friendship so rewarding, but they are also what makes friendship more complicated.

Type 5 - The Family PA

The fifth type of PA relationship is where the PA is like family. Family-like relationships are marked by deep affection and a mutual sense of duty. This kind of PA relationships may mirror real family relationships – we may feel that the person we work for is more like a parent, child or sibling to us. As with all PA relationships, tasks are important in family-like relationships. But family-like relationships also prioritise other aspects of the PA relationship, like the wellbeing of the person we work for, their aspirations for the future, and ensuring that the PA relationship lasts longer than other types of PA relationship. The danger of a family-type relationship is that one party – often the disabled person – can end up getting drawn into the life problems of the assistant. This can become very difficult and potentially conflictual.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

The Role of Personal Assistants in Disability Support

UEA (University of East Anglia)