Carers Rights Day

Life with PAs

I have Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy, and consequently require support from carers.

For over a decade, I have been hiring assistants (via Direct Payments) to help me with an array of tasks, including personal care.

I prefer to recruit my own staff rather than use agency workers. This has given me much more flexibility in terms of when, how and for the duration of time I use my PAs. It also means that I know exactly who will be providing my care, which is not always the case when going down the agency route. However, with this comes the added responsibility of being an employer, which in itself can be rather daunting and stressful.

I’m in the fortunate position of having a hugely supportive family who provide much of my everyday care. Since I live with my parents, I am unable to officially employ them as my carers, and so they carry out this role unpaid!

I do appreciate that not everyone has relatives to rely on. For these individuals, the only option is to pay others, often strangers, to assist with their care needs.

Like me, they might advertise, interview and hire independently, paying for their care with council funded Direct Payments (available in England, Scotland and Wales). Alternatively they may decide to use an agency.

For others though, in times of desperation, there’s no choice but to leave their residence and spend time in respite care. I know of cases where young people in their 20s have been placed in nursing homes for the elderly, where staff have no knowledge or experience of their condition and specialist needs. Personally, I can’t imagine such an experience and count myself lucky that I’ve never had to resort to this.

Over the years, I’ve employed around 10 carers/personal assistants, and interviewed many, many more! The most successful sources of recruitment for me are friends, neighbours, word of mouth and Facebook, though I also advertise locally (newsagents, post office, school newsletters, newspapers, etc).


Carer’s Allowance

If you are a full-time carer (at least 35 hours per week) you may be entitled to Carer’s Allowance.

You don’t need to be related to, or live with, the person you care for.

My Mum is in receipt of Carer’s Allowance (currently £64.60 per week) as she is my primary carer.

This may seem like a decent sum of money, but consider ~

£64.60 = 35+ hours care work. That equates to £1.80 per hour

This doesn’t include expenses, e.g. fuel/travel costs, parking fees (hospital appointments), etc.


My Open Letter to Carers/PAs

On behalf of all who require personal/social care, I invite anyone considering taking on the role of carer/personal assistant to think carefully about what it really means before you do apply.

Firstly, this is not a choice for us – it is a necessity! We’re not too busy or too lazy to do things for ourselves. When we advertise for carers, it’s because we NEED them and not necessarily because we want them.

As physically disabled individuals, many of us cannot independently carry out essential everyday tasks such as washing, dressing and toileting. To have no option but to entrust such intimate activities to another person – a stranger – is unnatural and unnerving. We are, in effect, placing our lives in your hands when you take on the vital role of personal carer.

Recruiting carers can be a lengthy and extremely stressful process for us. There’s the initial worry over whether there will be any applicants at all, followed by the dreaded interview process.

We often find ourselves waiting around for interviewees to attend, only for them to carelessly fail to show without any notification.

Please do bear in mind that disabled peoplehave busy, purposeful lives too, sodon’t waste our time. We appreciate there are valid reasons for failing to attend job interviews, but it’s no hardship making a quick phone call or sending a text message to let us know in advance.

As you would with any potential employer, be professional and courteous.

If and when we are able to successfully recruit, it can be incredibly frustrating and disheartening when that person flippantly decides to resign days later. You may wonder how and why this occurs, but the sad fact is that for many disabled people it is a reality. We are not afforded the luxury of being able to manage until a replacement is found. No, we can’t simply wait for the right person to show up.

Some of us even have to resort to respite and residential homes in the meantime, thereby taking us away from our own homes and everything we hold dear. Try to imagine if you will, how demoralising and distressing such a situation would be if it happened to you. I therefore reiterate how important it is to think before applying for a role as a personal carer.

Are you dedicated, trustworthy, reliable, able and willing to learn? Ask yourself: are you considering care work for the right reasons? (it is not an easy option!)

Your role as PA may be demanding and will involve a variety of tasks. You will be responsible for the safety and wellbeing of your potentially vulnerable client/employer.

So, if your attitude to care work is casual and indifferent, this is most definitely not a job for you!

#CarersRightsDay2018

Working Through Chronic Pain

Working full time is the goal for most of us – to earn our own money, pay the bills, put our skills and knowledge to good use, in addition to contributing to society. But for those who deal with chronic pain each and every day, this is not so easy to achieve.


Living with chronic pain can be debilitating, difficult to manage, incredibly stressful and for some it is sadly all-consuming. It is hard to focus on anything other than how you feel, thereby potentially affecting your personal and professional life, as well as your mental health and wellbeing.

No one wants to be out of work due to ill health. Aside from the obvious financial gain; work provides a purpose, opportunities to socialise, integrate with peers and further your own personal development.

Whether you commute or work from home, it’s important to find the method of pain management that suits you. Chronic pain can manifest in many ways, and as such there are several forms of treatment including medication, heat pads and even CBD oil.

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How to work through the pain:

Begin your day with strength and positivity: Try listening to motivational podcasts before bed or first thing in the morning. This will aid your mental health and encourage determination and perseverance to help you make it through the day.

Set the alarm: Seems obvious, right? But in all seriousness, this is an important step. An alarm will provide that extra nudge to get you out of bed. Position the alarm out of reach so that you’re unable to hit the snooze button or knock it over in frustration.
The earlier you start the day, the more time you have to prepare yourself physically and mentally. Rushing around will only add extra stress and inevitably exacerbate your chronic condition.

Learn to stretch: You might stretching is a bad idea for anyone living with chronic pain. However, in consultation with doctors and specialists, it can be of great benefit to devise a plan to stretch and exercise each day.
Stay as mobile and active as possible, but be sure to reserve energy and rest when necessary. Don’t force yourself to work through unbearable pain. This is counter-productive.

Comfort: Pay attention to your working environment – introduce furnishings and features for optimum comfort. Think about seating, cushions, footrests/stools and massagers.
Consider consulting an occupational therapist who will help to make your working life as easy as possible. If that means adding eight cushions of varying
firmness to your office chair, then do it!


Planning and preparation will result in good performance at work, despite constant chronic pain. Of course, it is sadly the case that many sufferers will never be completely rid of pain. But in order to work, and to work to the best of your ability, you need to formulate an individually tailored method of management. There is no ‘one fits all’ solution.

Inclusion in the Workplace: Improvements

While some progress is being made to accommodate disabled employees, there is still much more that could be done to help us to feel comfortable, confident and able to perform most effectively, at work.

This post highlights three crucial changes that need to take place to promote inclusivity within the workplace.

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1. Better help for those with hidden disabilities:

It is evident that wheelchair-users, like myself, need physical modifications such as accessible desks, ramps at entrances and exits, and lifts. But, due to a lack of information and awareness, those with hidden disabilities are still being denied access to the minor adaptations required to enable their working day.

For example, some people with debilitating anxiety conditions can find it incredibly difficult to work in an open-plan environment. Providing a private space or even desk screening can resolve this issue, thereby enabling optimum productivity. However, some businesses would rather maintain their open plan aesthetic than implement these simple adaptations in order to assist disabled employees.

2. Inclusive bonding activity and rewards:

There is currently a lot of focus on workforce team bonding activities, since this has been found to be a successful method of encouraging inclusion. However, many of these activities are physically demanding ie. assault courses and river rafting – totally unsuitable for wheelchair-users and those with physical disabilities.

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Of course, there are many more inclusive bonding activities, accessible to everyone regardless of ability. For instance, hosting a Weekly Quiz would unite team members whilst also providing a stimulating, competetive challenge. Then there are shared, adrenaline-fuelled experiences like skydiving, indoor skydiving and sailing. All of these sports cater for people with a diverse range of disabilities.

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Believe it or not, bonding activities can be tailored to the needs of the individual, and made more inclusive through various adaptations.

So-called ‘escape rooms’ are increasing in popularity. Players are locked in and must work together as a team, solving puzzles and riddles in order to escape before their allotted time is up! These ‘escape rooms’ are fun, exciting and can be easily adapted for those with disabilities.

If you are feeling particularly creative, you can following the guidance here and devise your own unique, inclusive bonding experience. This way, you can ensure it will be perfect for all involved.

3. The opportunity to prove ourselves, just like everyone else:

Though it should really go without saying; as disabled people, we want the opportunity to prove ourselves, just like everyone else.

We don’t want token gestures from employers. Disabled people are skilled, talented, capable and willing to work hard. We can offer a unique perspective and want to prove our value as employees. We want to be there because we have a genuine contribution to make, and we want to be taken seriously in what we say and do professionally.

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The important issue of workplace inclusion is something that requires immediate attention. Both employers and employees need clear access to information and education. Knowledge will promote confidence, which is essential for disabled people to access employment and for career progression.

Interview | Scott Watkin: SeeAbility

36-year-old Scott Watkin, an eye care and vision development officer with the charity SeeAbility, is one of this years deserving recipients of the British Empire Medal.

Scott, who has learning disabilities and the eye condition keratoconus, is recognised for his tireless work in the learning disability community.

A dedicated ambassador, Scott began his career co-chairing the learning disability partnership board on the Isle of Wight. This led onto an influential role as co-national director for learning disabilities within the Department of Health. He also lectures at the University of Hertfordshire, focusing on eye care, vision and equal rights. However, he notes his work with SeeAbility as a major milestone.


1. Scott, could you please tell Disability Horizons readers a little about yourself and your disability?

I was born with Williams syndrome which is a learning disability. Apparently I am one in ten thousand! Some of my muscles can be quite weak and my coordination can be not great at times.

I went to a special school and teachers never really paid attention to me, and it meant I didn’t really get the grades I wanted to get. I was bullied too which made learning very hard.

It also means I am more likely to have vision problems and actually I was diagnosed with keratoconus which I’ve had two corneal graftoperations on. I have quite a difficult daily routine involving eye drops and contact lenses.

2. How does your learning disability and eye condition affect you, and how have you found working with a disability?

My learning disability only shows when I’m nervous or worried about something, otherwise I’m a very confident person. I just need a bit of support to do my job and I’ve been really lucky to be supported well at SeeAbility.

My vision varies, some days it’s ok some days really poor. But I’m always ready to work!

3. What adjustments have you and/or your employer had to make in order for you to do your job effectively?

If I don’t know a journey, my manager will meet me in London and we will continue the journey together. I know my way from the IOW to London very well having made the trip many times.

If my vision is really poor, we put all my information on yellow paper in Arial 16pt font. This helps me to read it better.

When I first started working, I had lots of support to make steps in my job. But for me it’s just being able to talk to someone when I need to, and that’s the case at SeeAbility. If I don’t need that then I just get on with my job and carry on!

4. How and why did you get involved with the charity SeeAbility?

I first met Paula Spinks-Chamberlain (Director of External Affairs) at the Department of Health. SeeAbility supported me through my keratoconus and then I did some work as an ambassador. After that I was offered a job!

5. Could you please explain the role you play within SeeAbility?

I’m an eye care and vision development officer and I make sure people with learning disabilities get good eye care. I travel around the country giving training sessions to people with learning disabilities and carers. I need to make sure we lobby government to make sure they understand that eye care for people with learning disabilities is really important.

People with learning disabilities are much more likely to have sight problems than other people. Not only that, but they are the least likely to get the eye care they need. We are working so that eye care professionals make reasonable adjustments but what we really need is a national eye care pathway so that everyone with a disability can access a sight test.

6. You are also on the board of Learning Disability England. What are your aims and objectives in this capacity?

I try and make sure people with a learning disability have a voice. People with learning disabilities need the same access to services as everybody else.

It’s about setting the direction of learning disabilities in England. Lobbying government and challenging the social care cuts. I need to make sure we do what we say we are going to do.

7. Why is it so important to you to campaign for people with learning disabilities?

Firstly, people with learning disabilities are much more likely to have sight problems than other people. Not only that, but they are the least likely to get the eye care they need. We are working so that eye care professionals make reasonable adjustments but what we really need is a national eye care pathway so that everyone with a disability can access a sight test.

Secondly, people with learning disabilities deserve to have their voice heard. We deserve the same opportunities as everyone else as we have so much to offer. We just need the chances to shine.

8. What do you think are the main issues that require attention and improvement?

We need to stop the social care cuts and get a good eye care pathway down for people with learning disabilities so they can get the right eye care!

We need good annual health checks.

And to make sure the government take people with learning disabilities seriously and listen to what they want. For example, most people with learning disabilities want to work, and we just need employers to give us chance so we can achieve what others can have a good life.

9. Congratulations on being awarded a British Empire Medal in the New Year 2018 Honours list. How does it make you feel to be recognised for your achievements?

I never thought I’d be recognised in this way, it’s a real big honour. I’m glad my work is being recognised nationally because it’s really important. It sends a message to all the eye care professionals that I work with, they need to know how important eye care for people with disabilities is.

10. Finally, what tips would you offer anyone like yourself with a similar disability, who is seeking employment?

Don’t stop trying to find employment. Don’t be afraid to say you have a learning disability and it’s ok to ask for reasonable adjustments. You will have so many positives to bring to any role and don’t forget that, you are actually very reliable, more than other people!


I’d like to thank Scott Watkin for taking the time to speak with me.

My interview with Scott was originally published by Disability Horizons

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