A successful Brain Injury Awareness Month has come and gone, with our BIST/OBIA Mix & Mingle, our Brainstock event and our Annual General Meeting wrapped up for another year. In July, BIST’s blog will be taking a run at summer safety advice. But first we’d like to share another insightful article about returning to work after a brain injury.
By Melissa Myers
After an accident, the most difficult thing is assessing how many of the activities you enjoyed before your injury are still a possibility.
One of these activities is work, and people are often eager to return to the routine and independence a work-day can offer. But before diving back into the responsibilities of a job and pursuing the challenges that necessarily lay ahead, it is important to remember to take it slow. A lot of the time people can’t return to the job they had before their accident, but sometimes there is an option to work with a previous employer and return with a reduced work load.
We spoke with a career centre and a vocational job placement specialist to see what they recommended to keep in mind at each stage of the game:
Dale Smith, a vocational job placement specialist for over twenty years, specializes in helping people with a brain injury in preparing for and returning to work.
“One thing almost everyone talks about is the fatigue — both physical and mental,” said Smith.
In an e-mail interview, he told BIST that there are several factors to consider before returning to work and that the most important question you should ask yourself is “why are you considering work at this stage of your recovery?”
Smith mentioned that a mix of physical, cognitive and financial factors should be taken into consideration. Assessing how that group of factors affects your daily life will help with your decision about returning to work.
Smith said that the key thing to remember when pursuing a return to the workforce is “awareness of both your capacities and limitations.”
“It is very important to understand how and where these can affect you on the job, in the workplace or dealing with others (customers, coworkers),” he said.
Smith warned about the dangers of setting unrealistic job goals, a characteristic of many brain injury survivors who often find it difficult to realize their new, limited capacity.
Once you have decided that you are capable and prepared to return to work, there are a number of online job search resources that have been created just for persons with disabilities.
Disability Job Banks and Resources:
Before you start, there are a few necessary items you need to have prepared.
“You need a resume, a cover letter, references and interview skills,” said Smith. He points out that if you require a mediated work environment, that it is important to search for organizations that are comfortable and have worked with persons with disabilities before.
“I should note,” said Smith, “that for the most part an employer isn’t going to hire you ‘just because’ you have a disability – you still need to be qualified and capable.”
In proving that you are still capable, it is important to display the successes that have come out of necessary adjustments you have made to your daily life.
If you feel more comfortable having the support of a proven system, CareerQuest Inc. Canada — a career centre that offers targeted career training and return to work services — offers a job search training program that is usually one week in length. This training program, however, can be altered to accommodate a less demanding pace.
The interview process:
No matter how you find your initial job prospects, your possible future employer will need to bring you in for an interview. If you proceed without preparation, unfamiliar questions can be very intimidating once you enter the interview room.
Preparing answers before arriving at your interview can be a big advantage and will show your potential boss that you are keen to join their company.
At CareerQuest, executive director Rosemary Toscani and her team perform mock interviews with their clients, which they videotape and review. This way, you are able to identify issues such as being too fidgety or seeming too shy and can then strategize your performance during an actual interview accordingly.
Disclosing your disability:
When introducing yourself to a potential employer it can be difficult to decide when and how to disclose your disability.
“There are a lot of misunderstandings and misconceptions out there surrounding disabilities in general,” said Smith.
Both job experts mentioned identifying strengths and strategies in overcoming challenges as an important step before speaking with potential employers.
“We walk (our clients) through how to disclose their disability in a positive way and how to show that they’ve overcome the barriers,” said Toscani. At CareerQuest, they also negotiate with the employers on clients’ behalf to ensure a fair working environment.
“Initially (employers) are very reluctant,” said Toscani. “It’s all about educating them so we are very good at dispelling all the myths around head injuries and other disabilities as well.”
Smith noted that if you have set up the interview on your own accord, you should first ask yourself whether there is a need to disclose your brain injury and how it will affect your ability to do the job.
“For the most part an employer isn’t going to hire you ‘just because’ you have a disability — you still need to be qualified and capable.” — Dale Smith vocational job placement specialist
Even if you have been introduced to your job prospect through a job assistance program, you still need to exhibit an understanding of how you will need to adapt to your new position.
“I think it’s still important for you to show comfort in talking about ‘it’, how you deal with challenges and importantly that you are qualified, here to learn (and) here to work,” said Smith.
Beginning your new position:
Once hired, there is a lot to learn about your new job. Remember to take it slow when returning to work. When remembering old skills or learning new ones, your body and mind will need a lot of rest to take in and comprehend all of this information.
“Most people I work with don’t want to be the exception in the workplace or be seen as getting special treatment,” said Smith, “even though the reality of the situation is that you do need some consideration.”
Keeping a balance between home life and work life:
It is important to build responsibilities at work gradually so that responsibilities at home can be blended successfully. This gradual integration increases the rate of success in the workplace and allows you to assess a realistic balance between home and work.
Toscani says that using reminders in electronic devices can be a key way to help keep yourself organized. Also, proper communication with whatever rehab team you have in place along with the support of your family are important tools for success.
It is also important to become familiar in your workspace and make sure that you have a safe work environment.
Smith also noted that getting involved in health and safety committees is a good way to raise awareness by sharing your unique experience with others.
“As a person with a disability, no matter how it was acquired, you may have special needs or considerations affecting your ability to work safely,” said Smith.
Melissa Myers, BIST Communications Committee member.