New course trains people with disabilities to care for others

Hannah Bogle, Bonnie Brown, Jessie Frias, Tianessha Pleasant, Kendra Pittsley (front, from left), Kathleen Smith and Sonja Wheeler (second row, from left) celebrate with family and friends as they became the first graduates of the PCA Training Program, an innovative initiative of the Work Without Limits’ Bristol Employment Collaborative.


Like most people, Hannah Bogle wants to work so she can earn a living and contribute to her community. But until recently, she was part of a large population of people with disabilities who, despite their eagerness to find gainful employment, lack the opportunity to train for satisfying, productive careers. For this group, employment statistics are discouraging: 71 percent of people with disabilities are unemployed, despite the fact that 72 percent of those unemployed want to work. 

Bogle is on her way to bucking this trend, thanks to an innovative new training program that prepares people with disabilities to become personal care assistants (PCAs) for elders and others with disabilities. Funded by UMass Medical School’s Work Without Limits, which is a Massachusetts Disability Employment Initiative, the PCA Training Program recently graduated its first group of students, who are now qualified for employment as certified PCAs. “I want to honor and thank everyone who made this class possible for me,” said Bogle, who was one of seven graduates and a class speaker. “I will be a confident PCA!” 

The PCA Training Program, created by the Bristol Employment Collaborative (BEC), includes a comprehensive curriculum that instructs potential PCAs about the roles, duties, needs and opportunities in the field, and teaches participants job readiness skills. Students attend classes for six hours a day, two days per week for eight weeks, receiving training in essential care giving, communication and professional skills. 

“It was clear to BEC partners that PCA certification is an accessible entry into the health care field, which offers current job opportunities and, with additional training and experience, future ability to advance,” said Jean Goldsberry, executive director of BEC’s lead agency Preparatory Rehabilitation for Individual Development and Employment, Inc., and co-director of the BEC. “It is important to note that many of our members are people with disabilities who bring their personal and professional experience to the table.”


From top left, Tianessha Pleasant, Jessie Frias, Hannah Bogle and Kendra Pittsley, and from bottom left, Sonja Wheeler, Kathleen Smith and Bonnie Brown, with course instructor Leo Canuel seated in the middle, proudly display the certificates they earned as the first graduates of the PCA Training Program, an innovative initiative of the Work Without Limits’ Bristol Employment Collaborative.


Supported by the Massachusetts Medicaid Infrastructure and Comprehensive Employment Opportunities grant awarded to UMass Medical School by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Work Without Limits created the BEC and four other regional Massachusetts employment collaboratives. Their mission is to help improve competitive employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities through enhanced teamwork, communication and coordination among service providers, state agencies, employers, schools and people with disabilities. 

BEC partners include representatives from several community agencies that provide employment services to people with disabilities; the local offices of the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, the Massachusetts departments of Mental Health and Developmental Services, and the state’s Commission for the Blind; the local workforce investment board and economic development committees; Bristol Community College; the PCA Workforce Council; and peer-operated service programs. Bristol Community College and the BEC developed and delivered the curriculum and classes, while other members of the collaborative referred individuals to the classes, helped provide needed supports, and will provide continuing assistance with job development and employment for the graduates. Many members served as guest lecturers for the course in their areas of expertise. 

“I have learned so much and accomplished something so life changing for me,” said graduate Kendra Pittsley. “I’ve been assisted so much in my life and now I want to pay it forward.” Thanks to Work Without Limits and the Bristol Employment Collaborative, she and many others will reap—and sow—the same rewards.