Page One

Attendant shortage alarms the disabled community

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Wednesday May 16, 2001

Two nights a week about 11 p.m., UC Berkeley student Mike Barnes drops whatever he’s doing and walks the eight blocks from his fraternity to his second job. 

The job is simple. It rarely takes longer than an hour. In fact, much of his work time is spent watching the 11 o’clock news or discussing current events, new software programs, girlfriends. Though the job is simple, if Barnes doesn’t show up, it would drastically affect one  

person’s life. 

Barnes, a second-year political economy major, works as an attendant for Berkeley resident Scott Lupkin, a quadriplegic. After the two have socialized for a half-hour or so, Barnes prepares Lupkin for sleep. He helps Lupkin undress and then transfers him from his electric-powered wheelchair to bed. Barnes then plugs in the chair so it will be recharged the following day and heads back to Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity. 

Barnes chose the fraternity in the fall of 1999 specifically because of its commitment to assist people with disabilities. Besides working as attendants, fraternity members raise over $300,000 each year through its coast-to-coast Journey of Hope Bike Ride. 

“When I heard that, the deal was sealed for me,” said Barnes, who also works 20 hours a week at the campus Recreational Sports Facility. “I was worried at first because it’s a big commitment but it has really helped to shape me as a person.” 

In addition to gaining satisfaction from helping someone, Barnes earns an extra $100 for the eight hours he works for Lupkin each month. “It’s very rewarding to meet an interesting person,” Barnes said. “And it makes you feel good to help someone.” 

Attendant work seems like it would be the ideal part-time job. It requires little or no experience. The hours are flexible and the work can be both financially and personally rewarding. But despite these advantages, Berkeley’s disabled community is having an increasingly difficult time finding attendants.  

According to Sean Reidy, the Personal Assistant Coordinator at the Center for Independent Living, fewer people are submitting applications for attendant work. “Two years ago we were getting about 25 applications a month, from which we would end up with four or five decent attendants,” Reidy said. “Now we get an average of four applications a month.” 

The attendant shortage became so bad last year that the Personal Assistant Crisis Team was formed. PACT is a collection of organizations and private individuals that includes the Center for Independent Living, Easy Does It, a provider of emergency services for the disabled, and the Disabled Students Union. PACT has designed an information campaign, called the Frequently Asked Questions About Attendant Work program, aimed at students and others who can benefit from attendant work.  

Lupkin, an individual PACT member, said there are a number of reasons why there are fewer attendants. One is the strong economy that has created plenty of high-paying jobs. Another is there is a lot of misinformation about attendant work.  

One misconception is an idea that the tasks attendants perform require training or experience. According to the FAQs information sheet “most disabled employers can teach a new attendant what they need to know.” 

Another misconception is that attendants are required to perform highly personal tasks such as assisting with bodily functions.  

“Each disabled person is different in the kinds of tasks which he or she needs done. The tasks can range from running errands, to light housekeeping, to cooking, to more personal care like dressing or grooming,” the FAQs sheet reads. 

The sheet goes on to say that most people who are thinking about attendant work usually start by doing simple tasks and take on additional responsibility if they feel comfortable. 

Barnes discounts the fear of performing personal tasks. “If you can’t help someone undress by the time you’re in college… I mean most people in college should have that capacity,” he said. 

Barnes said any preconceptions or nervousness he had prior to helping Lupkin disappeared by his third shift with the disabled man. “It just goes away because you’re helping someone,” he said.  

Barnes, who is from Thousand Oaks in southern California, said he was introduced to working with the disabled by his mother when he was very young. His mother worked with disabled children as an adaptive physical education teacher.  

“I would visit her at a very young age and have always been very comfortable with disabled people,” he said. “It’s really not a big deal at all, they just want to be treated like everybody else.” 

For more information about attendant work go to or call the Center for Independent Living at 841-4776.