Kirsty Palmer, Volunteering Development Manager at TPT, wants to raise awareness about the many benefits of having a personal assistant in the workplace.

With support from her Personal Assistant Lydia, Kirsty has been able to maintain her independence and feel fulfilled in her job.

I have worked with TPT for over 5 years in a variety of roles supporting our volunteering offer. I am now a Volunteering Development Manager supporting our volunteering function in the South. I enjoy my job because of the diversity that it entails, and because I am passionate about supporting blind and partially sighted people to achieve their personal goals through volunteering.

I, myself, am registered blind but often people don’t realise this as I currently choose not to use a white cane or have a guide dog. Having choice and control over my own decisions is something that is important to me.

You have probably guessed by now that I am very independent! I have always worked full-time, I have brought up both my children as a single parent and if somebody told me I couldn’t do something then I would do my utmost to prove them wrong! But I have also learnt many important lessons, including that it is okay to ask for help. It just makes life that little bit easier professionally and personally, allowing me to maintain my independence. I’ve found the services provided by Access to Work especially helpful.

What is Access to Work?

Access to Work is a publicly funded employment support programme that aims to help more disabled people start or stay in work. It can provide practical and financial support if you have a disability or long-term physical or mental health condition.

I currently work with part-time Personal Assistants (PAs), or Support Workers as they are also known, who are funded by Access to Work. Working with a PA helps me to complete tasks I struggle to do without sighted support. I’ve experienced some negative opinions about having a support worker, including the notion that it is two people doing the same job, but this is not the case. As our society isn’t completely accessible yet, a PA is a supportive solution to help me to effectively carry out my role, allowing me to maintain my independence.

How personal assistants can help

Lydia is a Support Worker at TPT, working with me for 6 hours per week. One of her main tasks is to support me at external meetings and events. While I can find my own way to a station, it’s often hard to locate unfamiliar venues. Without Lydia, I would have to hire a cab or attempt to find it myself. These options create incredible anxiety for me, as many things could go wrong.

From experience, I have found taxis to be unreliable; there have been lots of occasions where the driver has taken me to the wrong place and I am left not knowing where I am. I then have to ask members of the public, who on the whole, are quite helpful but they tend to get their phone out and show me a map that I can’t see, or point to a building saying, ‘it’s over there, you can’t miss it’. But of course, I probably will miss it unless it’s painted bright yellow in a row of black buildings! If I do eventually find ‘over there’, then I am inevitably late, flustered and it takes me some time to refocus which doesn’t help me present myself as the professional person I want and need to be in my job.

I’d like to describe Lydia’s support as ‘magic’, as she takes away many feelings of anxiety, enabling me to focus on my job and exceed professionally.

It’s okay to seek support

The decision to ask for or to accept help was a personal challenge for me. It felt like I was ‘giving in’ to my vision impairment and losing my independence. In reality, it proved to be quite the opposite. Having a support worker has renewed my confidence and has helped me to be an effective employee.

For anyone with a disability struggling in their job or who thinks they can’t apply for one because some of the tasks aren’t accessible, they should definitely consider contacting Access to Work. It could really help to support you in your job, making a real difference to how you feel and perform at work.

Read Lydia’s blog here.