Setting Clear Expectations for Personal Assistants

A woman is carried up stairs on someone's back, while others bring her wheelchair.
"Position may entail providing lifts up to historic monuments and ancient sites."
Do you and your personal assistant have good communication to prevent misunderstandings?

Simply being available to travel wasn't enough to meet U.S. student Lauren Presutti's criteria for providing personal assistance during her studies abroad to Australia. "It was crucial for me to find the right two people who I felt most comfortable with and who I could completely trust," says Lauren of what made her time abroad a success.

Promoting a sense of trust and confidence between you and your personal assistant (PA) begins with establishing clear roles and responsibilities for what is expected of each other while you're abroad. Begin now.

Tips for Clarifying Expectations

Be thorough

When discussing your personal assistance needs with your PA, be clear about which tasks require assistance and how much assistance is needed. The sample checklist on this page can help you think through these tasks in detail, but remember that what you need may change once you're abroad. Your PA should be aware of and open to this possibility.

Put it in writing

Draw up a contract that you and your PA both sign, and make sure it states:

  • the PA’s specific duties and responsibilities
  • codes of conduct and rules for safety (i.e. be on time, no drinking, no drugs, etc.) If you're participating in a program arranged by an organization or a study abroad office, the program probably has its own codes of conduct.
  • terms of payment and compensation for services
  • time off
  • who will pay for and arrange overseas and in-country transportation costs, travel health insurance, admission fees to sites or tours, lodging, meals, passports, visas, cell phones, etc. 

The sample contract under the "Documents" on this page can help you get started.

Keep it professional

Make sure PAS take precedence over the need for a friend. It is very common for people using and providing attendant services to become friends, and sometimes even date. Unfortunately, this can lead to the person with a disability not asking for or receiving the proper assistance. While overseas, establish time for both a personal and professional relationship either by having clear ‘on-duty’ hours, or by using cues such as “this is work time” or “I’m switching to my friend hat” to distinguish roles.