The name is Reeves, Mychal Reeves, and this is how I found work post-ABI

BY: MYCHAL REEVES

When I was 11, I suffered a brain stem tumour. Coming back from a vegetative state and finishing school were only stepping stones along the path I have chosen, a path which, eventually lead to me to work in a hotel as a house person.

Mychal Reeves
THE NAME IS REEVES, MYCHAL REEVES; PHOTO via FACEBOOK

There are a lot of job postings out there, and there are many ideal candidates to fill those positions. People with disabilities are no exception, many of us have valuable skills to bring to the workforce. However, factors such as discrimination, prejudice and other economic barriers may stand in the way of us finding employment.

The only way to stand out in the job market is to be prepared, and utilize all the tools at our disposal. There are many resources, which specialize in helping people with disabilities find work. I learned a lot of professional skill building through an umbrella program at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, which consisted of many different employment agencies that represented various job fields.

Once I located my local branch, I was partnered with a job developer who worked with me to find job postings online and helped me regularly update and / or modify my resume. That is how I landed my first job – and the rest is history.

Mychal Reeves
MYCHAL REEVES IS READY TO CONQUER THE WORLD

When working with a job developer, it is important to continue your own search for employment. You will learn quickly that you are one of the many cases they are working on, and therefore you are not their only priority. I also recommend that you stay in regular contact with your job developer to keep your case fresh in their mind and show that you are dedicated to finding work.

When a job developer finds a job opportunity he or she feels might be a suitable match for your skills, they will give you a call to see if you’re interested and to help you apply. Then it’s your show. Once you have an interview, you should start researching the company because as the interview workshops at any job agency will tell you, one of the most frequently asked interview questions is, ‘What do you know about this company?’ Another frequently asked question is, ‘How can you help this company?’

Call 211 or the Job Opportunity Information Network for help finding work

This last question is, in my opinion, is the most important one, and is loaded because it not only shows that you have a working understanding of the business, but it gives you the chance to apply your skills and experience while confirming you will be an asset to the company.

Many people will doubt you solely based on the fact that you have a disability. It is up to you to prove them wrong and highlighting your skills is a great way to do that.

Come to BIST’s Community Agency Fair on February 24th to find out about the many ways non-profit services can help you to lead a full life post-ABI

BIST communit agency fair, february 24 6-8 pm toronto reference library

Mychal is a member of BIST. This is his first article for Brain Injury Blog Toronto. 

Thriving after TBI: injured Corporal gives back to fellow soldiers

BY: MERI PERRA

It’s possible the expression, keep soldiering on was created for people just like Corporal David Macdonald. In recent years, Macdonald has climbed the Himalayas, run two half-marathons and he just completed his first full marathon. He continues to serve in the Canadian Forces as a reservist, while working as the national partnerships director at Wounded Warriors Canada.

It’s not a bad list of accomplishments, considering that just six years ago, Macdonald spent three weeks in a coma at the U.S. military hospital in Germany, with no fewer than 47 broken bones in his body.

DAVID MACDONALD
CORPORAL MACDONALD WHILE ON LEAVE FROM THE ARMY THIS SUMMER

“I was involved in a vehicle roll-over on a combat patrol near the end of my tour. I broke my pelvis, I dislocated my left leg, and that had to be surgically put back in,” Macdonald said. “And I had a traumatic brain injury.”

Beyond his injuries, Macdonald says that waking up in Germany, alone, having left his platoon behind, was worse than any injury he suffered.

“[You spend] two years, training, living together, we bonded,” Macdonald said. “To find out that they were still in Afghanistan and I was halfway around the world was just devastating to hear. I wanted to be back with my platoon mates.”

information: brain injuries which are the result of blast are different than other brain injuries

Today, Macdonald, like many injured members of the Canadian Forces, is living with effects of PTSD as well as his traumatic brain injury. He has no memory of the incident which changed his life forever. And while he is learning to accept the reality that some memories have disappeared (he says there are moments from his high school days which are gone forever), the fact that he can not remember this specific, significant moment in his life has been particularly hard to accept.

“My last memory in Afghanistan was orders the morning before the patrol,” Macdonald said.

We hear stories about the challenges members of the Canadian Forces who are living with PTSD and brain injury face. There are the facts: roughly six per cent of the Canadian military personnel deployed in Afghanistan have acquired brain injuries as a result of their service. In the U.S., this number skyrockets to 22 per cent of all military injuries. If you’re in the military, having a brain injury increases your chances of also having PTSD.

Most brain injuries acquired during military service are the result of blasts from improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Motor vehicle crashes, such as Macdonald’s, and gun shot wounds, are the other leading causes of brain injury. Brain injuries, which are the result of blasts, have different symptoms than other types of traumatic brain injuries. Typically, post-concussion symptoms for military personnel last longer than civilian concussion symptoms, and members of the military are more likely to have concurrent symptoms such as PTSD and / or addiction issues, along with their TBI.

Macdonald knows the facts. Many of the initiatives and partnerships Wounded Warriors Canada supports are about helping members of the Canadian Forces, and their families, deal with PTSD. In his current position, Macdonald handles third party partnerships, events and fundraising for partner charities.

“Last year, we gave out $1.36 million in funding to these programs and it’s just growing from there,” Macdonald said.

Programs Wounded Warriors supports include a nine day equine assisted learning program for soldiers and their spouses living with PTSD, a fly fishing program and the donation of funds to support service dogs for military members.

“Your odds of developing a form of PTSD almost double for veterans, ” Macdonald said. “There is a certain stigma, because [some] people don’t understand you can recover from it, you can go on and live a normal healthy life. It’s not incapacitation by any means.”

David Macdonald
CORPORAL MACDONALD IN THE HIMALAYAS

Over time, Macdonald has come to accept his new reality. But immediately after he recovered from his injuries, he said he needed to prove to others, and to himself, that he could still be in the military. And while he was physically fit for duty, Macdonald said he continued to suffer physical and mental pain, “stereotypical” things, he says, people dealing with trauma experience. His marriage fell apart and he pulled away from his family and friends. He contemplated, and attempted, suicide.

“I was going through things like depression and I had a lot of anxiety issues, [but] I wasn’t recognizing them.”

Then a communication came through his unit. A documentary project, March to the Top, was looking for recovering soldiers to go on a climb through the Himalayas. Macdonald, who at the time was the only soldier in his unit who was wounded, was initially a bit sceptical of the project, which was described to him as a ‘good go’.

“Half the time a ‘good go’ means that … you get to do an amazing cause and you get to meet people,” Macdonald said. “Or it can mean that you’re shovelling dirt in Northern Alberta for six months.”

It turns out, March to the Top was a legit ‘good go’ and the experience changed, and possibly even saved, Macdonald’s life. Accomplishing the feat of trekking in the Himalayas made Macdonald realize that he needed help. He learned that what he was feeling was normal, and diagnosable. It was PTSD.

CORPORAL MACDONALD WITH AN AFGHAN NATIONAL
CORPORAL MACDONALD WITH AN AFGHAN NATIONAL

“It allowed me to open up and come forward in the military and say, ‘hey I have issues, I need help.’ And that’s what started the process for me getting the help I needed,” Macdonald said.

Macdonald’s attitude is one that accepts the realities of his injuries while allowing himself to thrive. He talks about post-traumatic growth, and feeling stronger as a result of experiencing  injuries and trauma. It’s important to him that he is able to help his fellow veterans through his job, a duty he takes seriously. Until he accepted a paid position with Wounded Warriors this past February, Macdonald juggled volunteering as the provincial coordinator for Ontario while working full-time at a bank, and doing his reserve duties. The man keeps busy.

March to the Top team
THE MARCH TO THE TOP TEAM; PHOTO: CBC

“I  don’t necessarily see my PTSD as a weakness anymore,” Macdonald said. “I used to see it more as part of my life, now I can be stronger because of it.”

Macdonald says he doesn’t know the “future” of his brain injury.  He says it can rear its ugly head at any time, and some days are harder than others.

“Something they ingrain you with in the military is never give up,” Macdonald said. “This is not a limitation, this is something that is now a part of you, but you can still excel, and you can still do amazing things.”


Meri Perra is the communications and support coordinator at BIST.

 

 

 

 

Employment Series – Post 1

Working at the OfficeOver the next few weeks we will post 3 articles by BIST Member Mark Koning on steps to getting back to work

Step 1 of 3: Employment Disclosure

So I believe this to be the most important step in venturing into employment after brain injury and I don’t know if the full meaning of disclosure is really understood and carefully considered.

The definition of Disclosure: n. to make (information) known; to allow to be seen; the act or process of revealing or uncovering; a revelation.

Why do I disclose and when do I do it? These are probably the first questions that come to mind. The first Who would be yourself; and the When, as soon as possible. We put so much emphasis on the employer and we don’t think enough about ourselves; and we should

We need to think more about Self-Disclosure: the process by which one person lets his or her inner being, thoughts, and emotions be known. It is important for psychologic growth in individual and group psychotherapy. (And continually self-disclosing helps keep your mind fresh) I realize disclosing to yourself may sound a bit silly, usually I refer to this as self-awareness, but it is important.

After brain injury has occurred wanting to get back into work and a regular routine is understandable, but taking small steps and gradually building is probably best. Talk to your doctor and/or therapist; speak with close family and friends. Ask them and then yourself if you are ready? What changes have occurred in your life? What kind of barriers or challenges do you face? Can you handle full or part time employment?

As a person with a brain injury, I know how important it is to be honest with yourself; as well as how hard it can sometimes be. And as someone who works within an employment awareness organization I have seen people rush into something without having asked the question, Can I handle an eight hour shift? Can I stand on my feet for a prolonged period of time? Can I really lift the weight described in the job ad? Can I sit and stare at a computer screen all day?

The employment scenarios of job duties may change, but the fact that you need to be honest with yourself and really think it through, does not.

Once you’ve gotten through the process of self-disclosure, you need to ask yourself if you are prepared to disclose to your employer. It is suggested that disclosure is not necessary during an interview and only after you have been hired; but even then only if there is a need in order to get the job done and done correctly. When and if disclosing to an employer there is no need to go into details about your injury and uncover everything that happened or what you may currently go through.

In the end, disclosure is always your choice. The fact that we have an “invisible” disability doesn’t necessarily make it any easier. Knowing yourself and what you are capable of can help you become a better employee, but it is also uncertain the way in which an employer will react to the news. This is why I will suggest that taking on the job search alone should be avoided and in Step 2 I will discuss how to go about making things a little easier by getting some Assistance.

About Mark Koning:

Mark has two passions in life: Writing and Giving Back through volunteering, donating and advocating in any capacity he can to help out.

First, he decided to further enhance his skills by working toward obtaining a Creative Writing diploma through the Stratford Career Institute; graduating with highest honors.

Next, he decided to learn about his own learning disability and brain injury, (acquired at the age of 6) growing through his writing, speaking with others and his work with One Voice Network, a not-for-profit organization that works to build inclusion and awareness for job seekers with disabilities.

For further information on Mark visit: www.markkoning.com

Mark’s hope is to share, learn, grow, and maybe offer a little inspiration along the way.

Employment Series Part 2

Here’s the second of three articles by BIST Member Mark Koning on the steps to returning to work.

Step 2 of 3: Employment Assistance

Image by Adamr via http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=4061
Image by Adamr

After you have self-disclosed your brain injury and have prepared yourself for the possibility of disclosing to your future employer, my suggestion is to seek out assistance in the job search process. I have written about discussing your venture into employment with your doctor or therapist, friends and family, but I am now referring to specific employment assistance as opposed to friendly advice.

There is quite a lot out there to help with the job search, you just have to look, and in my opinion it is always better to have a second pair of eyes and someone who knows the ins-and-outs of the labour market on your side.

Ontario March of Dimes, for example, has employment services to offer that I don’t think a lot of people are aware of. Unlike places such as Seneca’s Workforce Ready or Job Skills, both of which offer great employment services, Ontario March of Dimes specifically lends services to people with disabilities. Another one is JVS Toronto who are ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) service providers; and through ODSP you can also apply for income supports if you find that you need financial help.

There are many different employment service providers that you can work with and you can locate their services and organizations through Employment Ontario by filling out the requested fields, or by visiting a local disability-awareness site regarding Employment Service Provider organizations or for north of Toronto regarding Employment Services Provider organizations.

Once you connect with an organization, you can obtain the assistance of an employment service provider/employment consultant. Disclosing your brain injury here is not a must but I believe it’s beneficial and your provider is obligated to keep your information confidential. And remember, these people are your assistance in the job search and there to help you, not necessarily to take over and find you a job while you sit back and relax. If you want someone to do look for you then you need to look for an employment (temp) agency/recruiter that will charge an attached fee and/or take a percentage of whatever you make through your temp job. A temp job can last for quite some time, but it is still temporary, not permanent.

The choice is always yours and some people prefer temp agencies and temp jobs. But the employment service providers I am referring to come at no cost.

These Providers work with you on a one-on-one basis and can not only assist you in looking for work, but in building your resume, referring you to other free programs that can help boost your skills, preparing you for those forthcoming interviews and possibly even attending your interview with you and acting as an immediate reference, if you so desire. Your provider can help you disclose your disability (after you’re hired, I suggest and your provider likely will as well) to your employer if you wish and then to help them understand what accommodations you may need, something I will discuss in more detail in Part 3 of this employment series. Providers can be there for you and your employers to help make the transition back to work go smoothly.

(As I discussed in Part 1, disclose only what is necessary in order to help you with the job at-hand. Your provider I’m sure will have suggestions to offer as well).

About Mark Koning:

Mark has two passions in life: Writing and Giving Back through volunteering, donating and advocating in any capacity he can to help out.

First, he decided to further enhance his skills by working toward obtaining a Creative Writing diploma through the Stratford Career Institute; graduating with highest honors.

Next, he decided to learn about his own learning disability and brain injury, (acquired at the age of 6) growing through his writing, speaking with others and his work with One Voice Network, a not-for-profit organization that works to build inclusion and awareness for job seekers with disabilities.

For further information on Mark visit: www.markkoning.com

Mark’s hope is to share, learn, grow, and maybe offer a little inspiration along the way.

Employment series – Post 3

This concludes the three-part series by BIST member Mark Koning on the steps to getting back to work.

Step 3 of 3: Employment Accommodations

employeeI have talked about disclosure and assistance being part of the job search process (both before and during) in parts 1 and 2 of this series.  I am now going to add a third weapon to your arsenal for obtaining employment after your brain injury: Accommodations.

Just to clear any confusion, the accommodations I am referring to are not the type at an overnight stay at some hotel. Employment accommodations are defined as a means of removing barriers for someone with a disability so that they can work effectively.

You don’t have to wait until you have employment to receive accommodations. They are something you should know about and understand before you even apply for a job to find out what you may be entitled to, in order to help you perform and become successful in your job. Getting assistance from your employment service provider, having a discussion and asking questions will benefit you in the long run as well. You can learn more in the Workplace Accommodations page of the One Voice Network.

The Government of Ontario has passed a law that employers are supposed to follow, called the AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) which deals with employment standards. But just because this is a law brought forward doesn’t necessarily mean that it is adhered to in every situation, which is why I strongly suggest learning what you can before embarking on your job search.

When you do get a job interview, try to relax and seriously consider what is being said. But be prepared (according to the job description) about what it is you may need to help you perform your duties. You’ll get a sense of how accommodating your employer may be during your discussions and whether they truly are open to the possibility of hiring someone with a disability. They may ask if you require any workplace accommodations; they are not legally allowed to ask you if you have a disability, nor can they further pry into getting details if and when you disclose.

If accommodations are asked about then and there, be honest with what (if anything) you may need to perform the job. If nothing is mentioned, then don’t bring it up and just wait to see if you’re hired. If you get the job, congratulations! Then you may disclose if you wish and talk about any accommodations you may need. A law in the Ontario Human Rights Code says that any requested accommodation must be fulfilled except in cases of undue hardship (it’s a legal term used to describe an accommodation to employees that would alter the nature of the business or prove too expensive).

In most cases it is found that accommodations cost nothing or are quite inexpensive. Your employment service provider can help you and your employer with perhaps even finding ways to alleviate any costs.

Finding a job is tough for anyone, when you add to that a disability (especially a brain injury that is an invisible disability to many people) the road to employment can be that much tougher. Therefore, you cannot wait around until someone tells you what you need to know, you need to find it yourself. Remember, you are your best advocate and you know your capabilities and the barriers you face better than anyone.

About Mark Koning:

Mark has two passions in life: Writing and Giving Back through volunteering, donating and advocating in any capacity he can to help out.

First, he decided to further enhance his skills by working toward obtaining a Creative Writing diploma through the Stratford Career Institute; graduating with highest honors.

Next, he decided to learn about his own learning disability and brain injury, (acquired at the age of 6) growing through his writing, speaking with others and his work with One Voice Network, a not-for-profit organization that works to build inclusion and awareness for job seekers with disabilities.

For further information on Mark visit: www.markkoning.com

Mark’s hope is to share, learn, grow, and maybe offer a little inspiration along the way.

Reintegration into the workplace after a brain injury

Cake for everyone at BIST’s Annual General Meeting

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.

stressed at work
Photo courtesy FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

Continue reading

Advice: Returning to work after a brain injury

By Phil Warder

As an ABI Survivor, one of the most important and challenging aspects of your recovery is the process of returning to work. This can both be something that causes great frustration and yet can aid in your rehabilitation and increase your quality of life.

Sharing ideas at work
Sharing ideas at work.

Studies have shown that a return to work for ABI survivors improves overall quality of life and can offset some of the financial issues associated with an ABI. A return to work can give you focus and help you to feel productive. Possibly it is something that you have been thinking about as you go through the rehabilitation process. This post is written to provide some important things to think about as you make this decision and transition back to the workforce.

How do I know if I should return to work?

This is probably one of the hardest questions for someone else to answer for you. One of the best predictors of a successful return to work is your own motivation. Most people who feel they are capable of returning to work and are motivated will be able to in some capacity. That’s right, you are the person who will best determine if you can return to work! This also means that if you don’t want to return to work or don’t feel you are capable, it will be very unlikely that you can do it.

Continue reading