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Health / Relationships

How To Find Sex-Positive, Queer-Friendly Disability Aides

Written by Eva Sweeney. Photo of Marie Hernaiz by Holly Grace Jamili at #therealcatwalk

For those who need help with everyday things, hiring the right personal care assistant comes down to finding someone respects all of who you are. But finding that person — and weeding out those who don’t fit the criteria — can be a challenge. To help, I’ve put together a simple checklist to help you get the support you deserve. Let’s begin!

Write a very detailed advertisement.

I know some people with disabilities write a bare-bones ad when they are looking for assistants, but in my personal experience, writing an ad that not only describes the job, but also tells people who they will be working with weeds out the people who will be not cool with who you are. I actually like to hire people who don’t necessarily have experience with people with disabilities because they don’t have any preconceptions as to how the job is “suppose” to be. That way you can train them more easily to the way you do things, because everyone’s different.

Don’t get me wrong, some people with experience are cool — but don’t limit yourself to only people with experience. Also if you feel safe doing so, I recommend putting the fact that you are queer in your advertisement. If you are working with an agency you have every right to find your own assistants outside of their service and then funnel them to the agency. You just might have to explain why you want to choose your own assistants. I actually use Craigslist to hire my assistants. Here is an example advertisement I use when looking for aides:

“Hey, I’m Eva; I’m 35 years old. I graduated from Occidental College with a BA in gender studies. I am a freelance writer and a sex educator. I have cerebral palsy and I am looking for a full time assistant to help me in my life. I use a wheelchair to get around and I communicate what I want to say by spelling it out on a letter board. This might seem daunting at first, but once you get the hang of it, it becomes really easy.

No previous experience with disability is required because I will train you, and anyone is welcome to apply. Don’t be intimidated by the disability aspect because this is not a medical job, I promise, and it won’t take too long to train you. This is not a “caretaking” job, but a “hang out and help me” kind of job. So although we will have lots of fun, I do expect a certain level of professionalism. Also, we have to have some sort of interesting connection otherwise we’ll both be bored and I’m not cool with that.

As my assistant, you will help me in daily life activities. I am a teacher and I do classes on sexuality, so you would assist me in preparing and giving weekly classes. I’m a pretty outgoing person and I like to go out and have coffee and lunch with friends. I have an awesome Service Dog that accompanies us everywhere. I also have a very friendly cat, so you’ll get lots of kitty snuggles. I am part of the LGBTQ community so you will have to be comfortable with me being queer and interacting with that community.

This is a job for someone who can be genuinely excited and engaged in whatever daily experiences we have — from writing and editing, to daily errands, to having coffee with friends, to prepping and getting pumped for my classes, or even just hanging out and chilling. If you are bored and are “just doing your job” it won’t be fun for either of us.

If you are interested, email me and tell me about yourself and please include a resume. If possible, please send a video of yourself explaining why you’re interested in the job.

Thanks!”

Have a list of screening questions.

When people respond to your advertisement and you like what they have to say, I would recommend sending them a list of questions. These questions can be as simple as “do you have any back problems?” to “you will be helping me teach my sex education workshops, are you comfortable with that?” This second step saves you time and energy, as you don’t have to interview everyone who applies. Here are my questions. Obviously they are specific to me, but they will give you an idea of what kind of questions you can ask.

“Hello, 

Thanks for responding to my ad.  I have a few questions for you. 

1.   What about this job appeals to you?

2.   Part of the job will involve helping me go to the bathroom, brushing my teeth, showering, etc. I’m not too shy about whether a guy or a girl does this, but you should be body positive and I need you to be comfortable enough that you can do it safely and effectively. This doesn’t mean you need experience in these areas (I’ll train you and it’s pretty straightforward) but I like to know where people are coming from. It’s pretty easy once you get the hang of how to pick me up and transfer me. Are you cool with that?

3.   Do you have any back problems that would prevent you from regular lifting? One of the requirements for the job is the strength to do lifting roughly three times a day (to lift me, but I’m pretty small and can help). Trust me, it’s not like lifting an 80lb sandbag, and you won’t be carrying me a long distance.

4.   Do you have any experience with cerebral palsy?  Again, this is not required I just want to know where you are coming from.

5. My writing and classes deal a lot with sexuality and people with disabilities. I’m very passionate about the sexual rights of people with disabilities. Would you be comfortable typing the articles I dictate about this topic? Also, would you be comfortable being my voice in the online, live stream sex and disability class I teach weekly?

6.  I have a service dog. My service dog accompanies us everywhere. How comfortable are you around dogs? Also, I have a specific way that I handle my dog, so you need to be able to treat my dog in accordance with my standards (I only use positive reinforcement with my dog). As I said in my ad, I also have a cat. He’s very friendly.

7.   There is a large verbal component to this job — because I communicate non-verbally, you will be speaking my words to the world. This sometimes means smoothly facilitating interactions with new people (who have no clue how I communicate), participating in service dog meet-ups, chatting with the curious public about my dog, occasionally facilitating speaking gigs, as well as simpler tasks like phone conversations and griping to customer service people. I am a very social person with a quirky sense of humor so I am looking for someone who is outgoing, friendly, and likes people. Are you comfortable with that? What sorts of experiences have you had that make you comfortable with speaking for me?

8.   What questions do you have?

9. Assuming we get along and enjoy working together, how long do you see yourself working for me?

10. Tell me more about yourself: how old are you, what sorts of things are you interested in, what do you do in your free time, music, books, movies, etc.

Thanks, hope to hear from you soon.

-Eva

If you do like their answers set up the first interview.

In this interview, you can meet them and discuss more of the details of the job. More over, you both can get a sense of each other. For example, I have had people who just look at my aide instead of me during the interview, or people who don’t ask a single thing about me or the job. This is a huge red flag because if they cannot even look at me in the interview or ask questions, they probably won’t be very engaged in you or the job.

Here’s a tip: ask what questions they have to start off with. If they only ask about pay or hours that might be a red flag as well, but if they ask other questions too, like about you and other details of the job, then they are probably genuinely interested.

Make them think about the job for 24 hours after the first interview.

Most people in the interview phase will say they are interested. But being an assistant is not like any other job, and it requires a lot of thought. If you require people to really mull over whether they can do this job or not, some people will eventually decide this is not for them. That’s totally cool! You want to know this now and not train them for week — only to realize they’re not up for it.

Hold a final interview.

The second interview is just you and your perspective person chatting for an hour to see what your chemistry is like. Almost anyone can learn the tasks of the day, but if you two don’t have chemistry, the hours will drag on and you won’t enjoy it. This is about facilitating your life, so it is not the same as if you don’t like your coworker at a nine-to-five gig. In the second interview, if you’re only getting yes or no responses instead of easy back-and-forth, its probably not a good sign. Because I am non-verbal and use a letter board, if people “pretend” they know what I am saying but really don’t, that’s a very bad sign. I much prefer they ask me to repeat myself than pretend they understand. This is not only annoying but can also be dangerous if i am trying to tell them something important. You can even talk about who you are dating to feel out how they respond to your queerness or sexual positivity. Even if you only have a few things in common, you can still have great chemistry.

Write a training manual

When you hire new people, it is easier to give them a pre-written manual of all the tasks you need them to help with. Of course, you still need to do in-person training, but the manual gives them an idea of what they’re going to be doing. This is a great place to also go into more personal dating details, like if you need help on dates, or what to expect when your partner comes over.

Sadly, sometimes it still doesn’t work out with some people.

This job has to be good for everyone involved. It really sucks when you have trained someone and you or they decided it’s not working out, but that’s just a part of life. There are more folks out there!

Hopefully these tips will help you hire the kind of aides that you enjoy working with! Just keep an open mind and keep moving forward.

Eva Sweeney is a 35-year-old genderqueer disabled female who works primarily as a sex educator and freelance writer. Her topics include disabilities and sex, gender, and queer culture. She is the creator of the documentary, Respect: The Joy of Aides. She has been doing Sex and Disability workshops for 15 years and started doing this work because she found a huge lack of good sex positive information for people with disabilities. Eva wrote the book Queers on Wheels and has traveled the country giving workshops about Sex and Disability. She continues to give workshops online and in person thru Cripping Up Sex with Eva and she is also available for private consultations.

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