More to the Role of Caregiving Than Tasks

May 27, 2010

When people count on personal assistants to make it through their day, what is possible for them depends to an important extent on the way those assistants show up in their lives. Assistants can show up in trivial ways, as mindless guards or keepers, or in more generative ways as creative allies.”

That quote is from an article by John O’Brien titled “An Ethics of Possibility”. I picked a copy of it up off an exhibitor’s table at a recent conference on self-determination. Thinking back on our many caregivers over the years, it is evident that some “showed up” every day, and some just put their time in. As Mr. O’Brien puts it, “A direct service worker can give in to laziness and treat the work as though it is simply a matter of performing disconnected tasks…Toilet, bathe, dress, feed, transport, run programs and redo. In this mode the assistant acts as a keeper of the incompetent, uninteresting, and stuck. …Laziness can be justified by an ethic of rule-following, as (in) - just doing my job”

I can see in myself as I train this new caregiver that my approach is wrong. I focus first on the “tasks”. I train how to do transfers, prepare and feed food, shower, and handle a wheelchair. I don’t get around to the principles of the need to help Lauren live a life of purpose and quality, engaged in her community, until the basics are learned. But I realize now, that if they are not taught in tandem, the tasks are learned out of context. Some caregivers come to us with an understanding of the whole picture. They come in acknowledging their role not only as caregiver, but as a “life facilitator” as well. But, most come to us with no knowledge or experience with the world of disability, and lack the mindset which acknowledges that there is more to the job than “tasks”. The training of a caregiver plays a significant role in developing a caregiver that is a creative ally rather than a keeper. There will always be those individuals unwilling to be more than a keeper, but I must be mindful of the necessity of training a caregiver to know that there is more to their job than just tasks.

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