An effective, respectful personal assistant (PA) supports a woman and other people with disabilities in maintaining their independence, community living, productivity, and overall health and well-being (Adams, 2020; Nosek 1993a, 1993b, 1993c, 1995). Many women with significant physical disabilities require assistance for basic survival such as help with essential tasks such as eating, hygiene, or getting out of bed. Although many people with disabilities rely on family members to provide this assistance, others hire people outside of the family to serve as their personal assistants.
Unfortunately, some PAs are abusive (Oktay & Tompkins, 2004). An abusive PA may do things to have power and control over the victims. An abusive PA can negatively affect a disabled woman’s health, safety, and ability to participate in daily life activities (Powers et al., 2002; Saxton et al., 2001).
Like with other abusive relationships, a PA who has been abusive in the past is likely to become abusive again. For this reason, it is important to check references and require a criminal background check before hiring a PA. The following list includes examples of warning signs for PAs who are either abusive or becoming abusive:
Refuses to provide a criminal background check or references during the hiring process
- Treats you or your body like an object, or handles you roughly when assisting you
- Takes away or threatens to take away your adaptive or medical equipment
- Does not assist you or threatens to not assist you with your medications
- Tries to force you to eat or take medications/vitamins when you do not want to
- Leaves or threatens to leave you without help or a way to call for help
- Tells you no one else will provide care for you
- Touches you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, when not necessary, or without your permission
- Forces you to observe or engage in sexual acts without your consent
- Threatens to or puts you an undesirable living situation against your will
(List was adapted from materials developed by Disability Services of Safe Place, Austin, Texas)
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911.
If you or someone you know if experiencing abuse by personal assistant, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).
To learn about hiring a personal assistant and firing an abusive personal assistant, go to pages 36-37 of this guide ~ Adams, R. (2020). Safety planning with people with disabilities – A working guide. D. King & M. Schwartz (Ed.). Austin, TX: Disability Services of SAFE. Safety Planning for People with Disabilities and Deaf People.
Disability Rights UK. (2018). Being in Control: Getting Personal Assistants (PAs).
National Center on Elder Abuse. (n.d.) Abuse of Adults with a Disability.
Adams, R. (2020). Safety planning with people with disabilities – A working guide. D. King & M. Schwartz (Eds.). Austin, TX: Disability Services of SAFE.
Nosek, M.A., Fuhrer, M.J., Potter, C. (1995). Life Satisfaction of People with Physical Disabilities: Relationships to Personal Assistance, Disability status, and handicap. Rehabilitation Psychology, 40 (3), 191-202.
Nosek, M.A., Howland, C.A. (1993). Personal Assistance Services: The hub of the policy wheel for community integration of people with severe disabilities. Policies Studies Journal, 21 (4), 789-800.
Nosek, M.A., Fuhrer, M.J., Rintala, D.H., Hart, K.A., (1993). The use of personal assistance services by persons with spinal cord injury. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 4 (1), 89-103.
Nosek, M.A., (1993). The effect of personal assistance on the long-term health of a rehabilitation population. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 74, 127-132.
Oktay, J., & Tompkins, C. (2004). Personal assistance providers’ mistreatment of disabled adults. Health & Social Work, 29(3), 177-188.
Powers, L. E., Curry, M. A., Oschwald, M., Maley, S., Eckels, K., & Saxton, M. (2002). Barriers and strategies in addressing abuse within personal assistance relationships: A Survey of disabled women's experiences. Journal of Rehabilitation, 68 (1), 4-13.
Saxton, M., Curry, M. A., Powers, L. E., Maley, S., Eckels, K., & Gross, J. (2001). "Bring my scooter so I can leave you": A study of disabled women handling abuse by personal assistance providers. Violence Against Women: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal, 7 (4), 393-417.