BBCThreeHave you been watching the ‘Defying the Label’ series on BBCThree? Some really interesting issues have been raised, including the role of PA. In ‘Wanted: a Very Personal Assistant’, the premise was to pair young disabled people with possible new PAs for a trial period, with the prospect of a real job at the end of it. All the PAs were either students or unemployed, and hadn’t previously considered support work as a career. I think it’s important to challenge the stereotypes about working in social care, so quite liked the idea, although I did have some issues with the pairings – it was almost as though some the them were being set up to fail! However, maybe that’s another blog!

Francesca was paired with a young man called Josh, who has cerebral palsy. Josh is a stand up comedian, who enjoys booze, crude jokes and chatting up girls. Francesca is a university student, and a feminist poet – I think we can all see that it possibly wasn’t a match made in heaven!

Very PA

It wasn’t long before things got complicated! Josh wanted Francesca to support him for a weekend in Amsterdam – including visiting prostitutes. Francesca was keen to accompany him – but to visit the art galleries! She said that she had a moral objection to prostitution and was not willing to support Josh in this respect. They eventually reached a compromise; Josh would go to the galleries, if Francesca would visit the red light district – and Josh promised not to actually buy any services.

Now, if I’m honest, my immediate reaction was ‘Get over yourself! You’re there to support Josh, and as long as he’s not doing anything illegal, who are you to stop him?’ But once I’d climbed down off my high horse, I got to thinking – if it was me, where would I draw the line? For example, I may not be so squeamish about Amsterdam, but there are other things I would struggle with – what if the person I supported was a scientist, who used animals for research? Or someone campaigning for the death penalty, or another cause that I strongly object to? Would I be able to put my personal beliefs to one side in every situation? If I’m honest, probably not!

And by the end of the programme, Josh did seem to have changed his perception of prostitution, and thought again about the sort of relationship he wanted, so maybe Francesca’s influence had been a positive thing. As you can probably tell, I’m quite morally conflicted about the whole thing myself! In the end, they decided that the employer/employee relationship wasn’t for them – friendship was a better option!

African-American woman and teen laugh in kitchenI suppose my question would be then, what is the role of a PA? Where do you draw the line between being an employee, who may offer advice on occasion, and being a friend, offering advice and challenging values? What if you have a genuine moral objection to the task you’re being asked to do? It’s obviously helpful if an employer and a PA have similar interests, but if you become good friends, you do then run the risk of blurring boundaries when it comes to things like work disputes. And as an employee, should you be telling your employer how they should and should not spend their time?

Of course everybody will have their own values and moral codes – there’s nothing wrong with that. But being aware of them, and thinking about how they might impact on how you support someone is crucial. Open conversations are needed from the start, to make sure that both parties understand their responsibilities and know where they stand when those moral dilemmas do arise. When you know what’s expected, if you feel unable to support your employer in a particular area of their life, then the answer is more straightforward – don’t take the job!

If you work with people with learning disabilities and would like to explore some of the complex issues around sexuality, why not book a place on our course ‘Let’s talk about sex & learning disabilities’? Click here for more info. 

You can watch ‘A Very Personal Assistant’ on iPlayer here