Exploring the role of workplace personal assistants for physically disabled people

Katie Graham Completed   2019


Employment rates for working age disabled people are far lower than for their non-disabled counterparts. Some disabled people require support to undertake employment. The Equality Act (2010) places a duty upon employers to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to the workplace to ensure that it is accessible to employees. Where the barriers cannot be overcome by ‘reasonable adjustments’ disabled people are entitled to support in the workplace, in the form of a personal assistant (PA) or support worker, which can be provided or paid for by employers, or funded by other sources, such as the Access to Work scheme in the UK. There is, though, limited awareness of the role of the workplace PA for people with impairments.


This study involved disabled people, workplace PAs and employers to gain a greater understanding of how these roles and relationships can be better supported.


This study focused on PAs who support people with physical or sensory impairments in their workplaces. Seventeen workplace PAs, fifteen disabled people and four employers were interviewed about their experiences of giving, receiving or being aware of personal assistance in the workplace. The research team also interviewed representatives of six organisations who provide support to disabled people who employ PAs.

Study participants and other stakeholders were invited to be part of the development of a resource to support conversations between PAs, disabled people and their employers.


  • Workplace personal assistants (PA) are important in facilitating people with physical or sensory impairments to do their work.
  • Difficult situations can occur when colleagues do not understand the PA’s role, or when the PA is unclear about how they should behave. This can affect the disabled person’s
    ability to do their own job.
  • Boundaries need to be clear; it is important that communication between the disabled person and both their PA and line manager is open and honest.
  • Organisations should review their policies around employing disabled people, and consider how these make provision for the workplace PA role.
  • Disabled people entering the workplace may need advice on the funding for a PA. Social care staff should be aware of resources available to support disabled people to work and manage their PAs.


A key finding of the research was the lack of guidance or support available for workplace PAs, disabled people using PAs and employers. The research team consulted with participants and other stakeholders to develop a resource to support the workplace PA role by suggesting a series of useful conversations to have with their PA and employer, and good practice tips.

Guide: Taking on a personal assistant to support you at work (PDF)

Good practice tips for workplace PAs (PDF)

The full resource is available at https://workplacepersonalassistant.org.

The role of workplace personal assistants for physically disabled people
( https://www.sscr.nihr.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/RF92.pdf )
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