When I was accepted to study sports science at Leeds Met (now Leeds Becketts), we had a meeting with one of the disability advisors called Colin Martin. Now as it turned out, meeting Mr Martin was both good and bad. I may talk about the bad another time, but for now, I will focus on the good.
We were sat in his office, he was barking obnoxious dictations to his distressed PA, who was looking like a overworked PhD student. When he casually said, “and what arrangements have you made for when you’re in halls? Do you have a care plan in place?”
Fifteen tumbleweeds and mule pulling a cart rolled by before my dad said, “no.”
I have no idea why we had not even discussed the fact I would need care before then. We all knew that I did. But in the lead up to going to university that reality seemed to become something of unspoken truth. Something that we all knew but did not want to mention.
Then he began to ask loads of questions. “Can you cook for himself? Can you do the washing? Can you cook?”
And I am sat there thinking; I suppose I can?
By then the seed of doubt had been well and truly been sown. There was no going back.
That was a good thing. A real turning point in hindsight because that was the point at which, my parents and I began to have some frank conversations with each other. We began to talk about things like cooking, cleaning and going out. We confronted the reality of what was happening, as a supposed to being swept up by the romance of it all.
So we rang social services and for the first time in eighteen years, we had a meeting with a social worker. In the meeting the social worker (who was very nice) came and asked a bunch of questions, which I did not give good answers to.
We agreed a set of hours and a direct payment budget. I put a job advert out and did some interviews. I was lucky to find a nice guy called Nick, who began work a few weeks later. Although Nick did everything well, the cooking and cleaning etc, he was not the PA that I needed.
I later met a guy in my halls called Richard. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was the PA that I needed. What was the difference between Richard and Nick?
Richard didn’t just do what I told him, he often told me what to do. Not a controlling way, not at all. Richard would often teach me things. We discuss very personal things related to my condition and myself. I would be open and honest about my issues and we would work out ways to get round them.
It was the little things that I have talked about in other blogs such Top Tips for Wheelchair Pub Crawls and How To Look Good Sitting Down. We had a system for getting to the loo, for getting the next round in and for getting home. It was thought out, planned and carried out in such a way to make me look good.
Richard changed my life because he really empowered me to go out and live my life. There were things that he was not so good at, which I might cover in other blogs but in hindsight, the good far out weighed the bad. My only regret now is that I did not think about getting a PA sooner. I think if I had thought about getting a PA at 15 or 16, while I was still at home, then that might have given me a chance to develop more as person before I left home.
Both my parents and I never considered getting support during those years. I had mid-level support needs that were serviced by being in a family environment. But I am sure that we missed a trick. We should got a PA.
So if you’re fifteen or sixteen, living at home and wanting to get more from life – considering getting a PA. Go meet your own wingman.