They exist but they don't exist: personal assistants supporting physically disabled people in the workplace

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Employment rates in England for disabled people are persistently lower than for non-disabled people. Support from a Workplace Personal Assistant (WPA) is one way of narrowing this gap. Personal assistance is an empowerment-driven model in which the disabled person controls their support: who provides it, when, how and where. Previous research has focused on the PA role in the home setting. This article draws on data from thirty-two qualitative interviews in the first UK study to explore personal assistance in the workplace for people with physical and/or sensory impairments. To maintain their enabling role in this external setting, WPAs needed to strive for occupational invisibility when among the disabled workers’ colleagues: to ‘exist but not exist’. This article examines the WPA role as invisible work, applying Hatton’s (2017) conceptual framework. The analysis contributes to understanding of workplace personal assistance and ways in which mechanisms can intersect to produce multiple invisibility.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages18
JournalWork, Employment and Society
Early online date12 Jun 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Jun 2022


  • disability
  • Emotion work
  • invisible work
  • personal assistant
  • role

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