Sometimes, a customer or patron with a disability is accompanied by someone who is assisting them. There are many terms for the helper, such as carer, companion, worker, partner, family member, attendant and friend.
There are two main kinds of companions you are likely to encounter in the library – paid and unpaid. Paid workers from support agencies would be accompanying the individual to assist them with accessing community resources, events and spaces, such as the library.
Unpaid carers are most likely to be family members, such as parents, spouses, siblings or children.
How to approach carers and companions
The presence of a carer does not mean the individual is incapable of speaking for themselves or performing certain actions. The individual to whom you are offering a service will indicate if they need assistance from their carer, or need the carer to intervene.
Carers can help you learn how better to assist individuals with access needs, particularly when an individual has communication difficulties.
- Always ask the individual for permission to speak to their carer, and keep the individual you are serving in the conversation.
- Do not talk about the individual in the third person, as if they are not there.
- Address them and the carer at the same time.
- Continue to make eye contact with the individual you are serving.
Library staff also need to be sensitive to family carers and their needs in the caregiving role.
Family carers tend to be female, usually the individual’s mother. Their caregiving role may result in family carers becoming socially isolated, especially where they have had to give up employment and/or socialising is difficult due to the impact of their family member’s impairment/disability.
Caring for a family member also often creates very complex relationships and emotions within the family, which paid carers usually are not subject to, due to not being related to the person they are caring for.
- Offer family carers the same level of service and empathy you offer everyone you serve in the library.
- Understand that a family carer may be experiencing a degree of anxiety when with their family member in the community, and may feel a need to control the situation.
- Offer services to assist the family carer, such as a home delivery service if getting to the library is restricted, or programming that may interest them and the family member they care for.
Sometimes, you may need to adjust your approach to carers in families from non-Western backgrounds. Visit our Disability and Cultural Difference Page for more details.
Paid carers from support agencies are required to be in attendance the entire time with the individual who is participating in community activities.
Paid carers are not to leave the individual in programming, or at an event, and assume that library staff will attend to the individual’s needs. This is not your role. If an individual with a disability has a paid carer with them when participating in community activities, it’s because they need the paid carer with them for access or supervision reasons.
While it is not common for paid carers to leave individuals unattended, it can occasionally occur. If you notice a paid carer has left the individual or is not assisting when the individual has particular needs that require specialised expertise (e.g., behaviour management), first ask the carer directly to assist. If it is a persistent problem, find out what agency the carer works for and report the carer’s behaviour to the agency.
While some people may be reluctant to do this, paid carers who do not remain in attendance, or who use community programming as a way to take a break from their clients, are creating a risk for the individual, as well as for you and other patrons. You are not expected to know how to intervene in the case of an emergency with the individual (e.g., escalated behaviour, feeding-tube issue, disorientation).
By reporting, you will help the individual receive better attendant care in the long term, help weed out the minority of people in paid attendant care positions who are not properly skilled, and keep the library a safe and welcoming community space for all.