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Personal Assistance Services in the Workplace

By: the U.S. Department of Labor

What are Personal Assistance Services?

Personal Assistance Services (PAS) can be defined as people or devices that assist a person with a physical, sensory, mental, or cognitive disability with tasks that the person would perform for himself or herself if he or she did not have a disability. In general, these may include assistance with dressing, bathing, eating, toileting, and cognitive tasks such as handling money or facilitating communications access with a reader or an interpreter.

What are Personal Assistance Services in the Workplace?

 In the workplace, PAS is provided as a reasonable accommodation to enable an employee to perform the functions of a job. The employer's responsibility for providing reasonable accommodations begins when the employee reaches the job site and concludes when the work day ends. PAS in the workplace does not include skilled medical care. Work-related PAS might include filing, retrieving work materials that are out of reach, or providing travel assistance for an employee with a mobility impairment; helping an employee with a cognitive disability with planning or decision making; reading handwritten mail to an employee with a visual impairment; or ensuring that a sign language interpreter is present during staff meetings to accommodate an employee with a hearing impairment. Each person with a disability has different needs and may require a unique combination of PAS.

What Personal Assistance Services has been Provided in the Workplace?

 The following examples of PAS were drawn from the database of the Office of Disability Employment Policy's Job Accommodation Network (JAN) and represent actual workplace accommodations that employers have provided for their employees with disabilities. These represent only a sampling of the many forms that PAS can take in the workplace: A state agency maintenance mechanic with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, had difficulties climbing stairs and carrying materials. The job was restructured so that this individual always worked in a team with another mechanic. The co-worker was easily able to carry the equipment and do the required lifting on the job while this worker performed other necessary tasks.

Because the facility had no elevator, the worker was assigned only to jobs on the first floor. An engineering assistant who is paraplegic could not open the entry or exit doors because of the type of security system at the communication company where he worked. The system included a security guard on duty at the door. The guard opened the door for the employee. A college professor with physical limitations resulting from a stroke was assigned a student worker to assist with transport of materials to and from classes. The cost was minimal as the worker was already assigned to the department and performed other duties, as well. This task took approximately five hours per week of the student worker's time. An office employee who is paraplegic working for a food manufacturer was provided an escort to his car to assist him in going through the doors and in folding and loading his wheelchair. An engineer who uses a wheelchair held a job in a manufacturing company that required employees to move throughout a campus facility inspecting various aspects of the buildings, typically using the ability to climb, scoot, and crawl into small spaces.

The engineers worked in teams. One member of the team would videotape the areas that this worker could not access. The engineer then used the videotape to gather pertinent information for the task. A proofreader in a publishing company who uses a wheelchair was not able to transport materials from an inaccessible location to her work station. She was provided a low file cabinet and drawer unit that she could access and some necessary materials were placed within her reach. This area was periodically stocked for her by co-workers. Other materials that needed to be housed elsewhere were brought to her on a daily basis by her co-workers, who were also obtaining their own materials when retrieving or returning hers. A federal agency employed two-full time sign language interpreters to accommodate the communication needs of numerous employees who are deaf. Having the interpreters on staff eliminated the need to contract out for this service.

This solution saved time and eliminated the necessity of scheduling interpreters two weeks in advance, allowing for impromptu meetings. In addition, the staff interpreters were familiar with the vocabulary, protocols, and individuals within the agency, enabling them to perform their duties better. An insurance company program analyst who is deaf had to communicate with others 90 percent of the time. The person worked with a team, but team members rotated throughout various projects. An interpreter was hired to facilitate communication between this worker and other team members. A private school employed a counselor who is blind. Accommodations included providing a screen reader and voice synthesizer for computer activities and a part-time support service assistant for completing handwritten paperwork and reading print materials. A health care service case manager who is blind was provided a driver to assist in making home visits. The same driver also was used for other driving needs of the health care facility. As often as possible, trips were scheduled so that the driver was transporting this individual and meeting other needs of the agency at the same time. 
What Resources are Available for Additional Information?

The Office of Disability Employment Policy's Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is a toll-free service that provides information about workplace accommodations and the employability of people with disabilities. Calls are answered by experienced consultants who have instant access to the most comprehensive and up-to-date information about accommodation methods, including personal assistance.

Contact: (800) 526-7234 (V/TTY);

World Institute on Disability s Rehabilitation Research and Training Center conducts research to further understanding of how PAS can promote the economic self-sufficiency, independent living, and full integration of people with disabilities into society. A publication list of research results is available. For answers to questions, call the center's Information Connection voice mail response system at (510) 251-4301 or contact the World Institute on Disability, RTCPAS, 510 16th Street, Suite 100, Oakland, California 94612, (510) 763-4100 (V), (510) 208-9493 (TTY).