Walter (PA employer): I’m a born and bred ‘portonian.’ That’s the local name for those of us who hail from Grangemouth. I have lived on my own since 2006 and despite having no sight I initially only received four hours support a week via social services. After my new guide dog came along I asked for more support and received 20 minutes per week simply for hoovering to keep all the dog hairs in check! I just couldn’t get things done with so little support. Some people I chatted to on the internet told me about their experiences of Self-directed Support, but I thought it only applied to England. However I began to make enquiries and with the help of the Self-directed Support, Forth Valley help team, I applied for Self-directed Support and opted for a direct payment.
Anne (PA): Months after my husband died which ended a period of caring for him, I needed some purpose and structure. Family and friends were always there for me, but I soon realised that I had to get on with life and I felt I still had something to offer. My past experience included working in various retail jobs, a bowling alley and petrol station, to name a few. I had applied for a couple of shop jobs that I wasn’t really keen on when I saw Walter’s advert, but I wasn’t sure about applying as I thought a PA was only for big companies. When I looked at the range of tasks required, after having a closer look at the advert, I thought “actually I can do this.”
Walter: I had had PAs before Anne, some good and some not so good. One PA carried out the tasks I asked of her. but in-depth conversation was difficult since she had no opinion on any topic I raised. This experience made me realise how important it is to have someone not just to complete tasks, but who I can relate to, and who likes a conversation, as I depend so much on verbal communication. Being able to employ someone of my generation was also important as we would have more in common. At my request a member of staff from the Self-directed Support Forth Valley help desk sat in on the interviews with me. I wanted to hear how people answered my questions, but it was equally essential to receive feedback on their non verbal responses and how they presented.
Anne: When I first started it was a big learning curve. The cooking and household tasks required were not a problem, but I had never worked with a blind person before and I made so many basic mistakes like leaving doors half open, placing food in the fridge and cupboards without telling Walter where I had put them and not switching lights off when I left. I received so many phone calls from Walter after I got home asking “what have you done with so and so?” that I’m surprised I lasted beyond the probationary period! Once I bought plums and tomatoes which were the same size and in the same type of packaging and placed them in the fridge, but forgot to tell Walter which was which. I’m so glad he has a good sense of humour as he had to smell and taste them to figure it out. However Walter was so patient and understanding and over the years I have learned so much from him. We get on well, we have a lot in common and I can talk until the cows come home so we have some great conversations. The only problem now is making sure that Walter doesn’t trip over the toys his guide dog Pepper leaves lying around the house. Walter is very active in the community. He gives talks about his experience of Selfdirected Support, visual impairment and guide dog awareness. I go with Walter to support him and sometimes to ‘prompt’ him if he forgets something that I know he would want to cover. We have been to numerous community groups, schools and colleges.
Walter: I opted for a direct payment because I wanted to be in control of my support and choose the person I wanted to support me. For me a direct payment is the ‘a la carte’ option on the Self-directed Support menu. I felt that in the past it was ‘take it or leave it’ when it came to the support that was provided. A direct payment allows me to employ the person that best suits my needs, it’s all about choice. Anne now knows exactly what I need done and she will come in and just get on with things, even if I am out walking with Pepper. I also value her opinion, e.g. if I am buying clothes or something for the house. Until Anne told me, I didn’t know that my house was wall to wall pink, furniture included! People had decorated without asking my opinions, so we worked together to redecorate. I am reliably informed that the house would now be much more to my liking. I particularly appreciate the flexibility of having a PA. If I need to change the hours to suit my commitments I just discuss this with Anne. It works both ways of course and we come and go with each other. Of course I could have engaged a care agency to meet my support needs, but one aspect of this is the agencies here require their employees to wear a uniform with the company logo emblazoned on it, plus a picture ID on a lanyard. This screams out that the person they are with has “a problem” and it isn’t very discreet and I just don’t like drawing that kind of attention to myself. I do use an agency to handle domestic cleaning needs and this is quite handy as I can increase the agency hours to cover Anne’s holidays.
Anne: Being a PA can start off as ‘just a job’ but it soon becomes so much more. In the past I was always working to make money for someone else. Being a PA is not about money as much as about supporting someone to just get on with life in the ways that we often take for granted and I value being part of that. In turn I feel valued as Walter is very considerate and appreciative of my contribution to his life. There is friendship and mutual respect. Walter never takes me for granted, although I have had to say on the odd occasion “Walter I know I can multitask but wait a minute!” Is there anything I don’t enjoy? Yes: ironing, but Walter doesn’t let me away with that!
Walter: I have choice and control over my support, I feel fitter having lost 7 stone in weight in the last year and as I prefer being a ‘giver’ rather than a ‘receiver’ I feel that the talks I give on behalf of various organisations about Guide Dogs and also Self-directed Support and Blind Awareness, help to give something back to the community. All in all, with the control I have over my support needs and the help of a good PA, it makes the effort of getting out of bed in the morning worthwhile.