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.

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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.

BIST member Taylor Corstorphine: The power of positive thinking

By Melissa Myers

“I’m never discouraged.  I just keep going and keep moving.  I’m never down or sad”

Taylor Corstorphine: graphic design artist; brain injury survivor.

Taylor Corstorphine is in his last year of a three-year Graphic Design program at George Brown, and earned his way into the program by achieving a grade higher than 3.0 on a photography portfolio he created in his first year.  He created the portfolio in a course called Art Fundamentals.

He volunteered with the Brain Injury Society of Toronto (BIST) to create the poster for BIST’s 5km Run, Walk and Roll in September. Corstorphine says it is difficult to balance school and volunteer work, but he looks forward to more volunteer opportunities with BIST.

Taylor Corstorphine
Taylor Corstorphine. Photo by Melissa Myers

His interests at school and ambitions in graphic design include packaging and corporate design, which involves designing brand logos and product packages.  Working out, reading, golfing and watching movies are some of his hobbies.  Corstorphine loves to laugh and comedy is his favourite genre of movie.

In 2006, Corstorphine was hit by car while training for a Sporting Life 10 kilometre run with his high school gym class.  He was knocked unconscious from the impact and was then put on life support and put ino a drug-induced coma once an ambulance delivered him to St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.  He says that doctors at St. Michael’s said he had a one per cent chance to live.

After two and a half weeks in a coma, Corstorphine was finally pulled out of it and found himself in the intensive care unit of the hospital.  Two months later he was transferred to Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, where he stayed for six months.

Corstorphine had to re-learn how to walk, talk and eat properly.  At rehab, he partook in physiotherapy, speech language pathology and began attempting simple math, English and art practices.  He had to learn how to read and write again and, interestingly, he found himself more interested in art where he had preferred history and science beforehand.  In this way, Corstorphine said he had experienced a sort of revival and had become a new person.

He said he remembers his mom being there for him and spending a lot of time with him while he was in rehab.

“My mom dropped everything and went to the hospital,” said Corstorphine.  He said that his dad and sisters had a more difficult time accepting what had happened to him, but that his mom was and is really aware.

He said that a lot of friends came to visit him while he was in rehab, but that not all of them still visit with him.  It seems some people have moved on with their careers, but Corstorphine says a couple of friends stuck around and still accompany him to events around the city.

Although he has a great family supporting him and has been able to live a goal-oriented life, Corstorphine still copes with many challenges due his acquired brain injury.  For example, to stay successful at school he has to pace himself.

Corstorphine has made it through his program by taking four classes per semester instead of the usual six-course curriculum, making up the remaining classes in summer semesters.  Another way he paces himself at school is by strategizing his coffee intake and taking after-school naps.

“I drink coffee in the morning, and one in the afternoon,” he said.

At school, Corstorphine uses a smartpen to record classes and has help taking notes.  He utilizes several memory aid devices and also has a rehab support worker (RSW) who helps him to get off to a good start at the beginning of each semester.  He said that he has been writing a lot of things down lately to help him remember what is going on at school.

Corstorphine said that although his short-term memory has been affected, his long-term memory still remains intact.  He recalled his role on his soccer team before his accident.

“I was a ‘stopper’ (midfield/defensive player),” he said, mentioning that his head was his biggest asset as he used to stop the ball from entering his team’s defensive zone.  He said he still enjoys playing soccer with friends whenever he has the opportunity.

Corstorphine also mentioned he had taught younger students English as a Second Language, or ESL, to fulfill his mandatory high school volunteer hours before his accident.  He said he taught the students how to read and speak English at an elementary school downtown and that this volunteer position had been very rewarding for him.

Corstorphine seemed to have a very unique and positive outlook on life and didn’t want to focus on the way his daily life has been altered.  Instead, he pointed to his successes and the way he will use the skills he has learned.

“I’m always moving forward,” he said, “that’s my motto.”

Melissa Myers is a BIST Communications Commitee member and is working toward her Bachelor of Journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto. 

Back to School with TBI

By G. Ian Bowles

For many people with a traumatic brain injury, going back to school can be quite threatening: both personally and professionally.

My own brain injury happened three years after I finished my M.S. in geography. I had not intended to end my schooling when I had finished that degree, and I was not about to let my car accident impede my lifelong goal of education. But difficulties in memory and understanding make classes difficult: especially when we often expect ourselves to grasp things at a faster pace. pace that we often expect of ourselves.

Below are some of the principles that are recognized to help TBI survivors to return to class. For me, I was not only able to get back to school, but for several years I taught at the university level, south of the border.

Filling their minds with new ideas. ;Image: ;FreeDigitalPhotos.net;;

Filling their minds with new ideas. Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Challenges

Whether going back to high school, university or work-related classes, the thought of an intense, structured learning program can be intimidating. Often, learning new material is difficult for people with brain injuries, and school is nothing but new ideas. Fatigue can also be a problem, since many of us tire easily.

There is also a social perspective necessary for group projects or for getting help, and sometimes this can be beyond the reach of TBI survivors, according to the Tramautic Brain Injury Survival Guide written by Michigan-based Clinical Neuropsychologist Dr. Glen Johnson. But we can adapt to situations. Often it is fear of these situations that is our biggest obstacle.

Help is available

Usually, there will be some kind of assistance offered as a structured part of the school or university: it is just a matter of finding it, and qualifying , according to Brainline. This could involve some investment of time and energy before classes actually start, and during the term to keep the administration abreast of any difficulties.

Talk to those who are in charge; find out what’s possible and how to get involved. Sometimes it involves a letter from a doctor; sometimes help is based on individual situations and happenings. This is why it’s important to remember to tell them about difficulties, as they happen.

School strategies

There are many strategies that can be used to compensate for a brain injury. Studying is important: a lot of repetition rather than simply “cramming” for an exam. Start early and don’t leave things until the last minute.

Some people use multiple senses in studying: reading, writing, speaking and hearing. I’ve done this: simply rewriting my notes will help me to remember, even if I never look at those particular notes again.

Some people need breaks or extra time during an exam; such compensation is not difficult to achieve.

Worth the effort

Walking through the steps thus takes longer for TBI survivors, and we have to work harder: but our education is worth it. It should be noted that each person, and each injury, is different. Some strategies that work for some people will not work for others. What seem to be subtle variations in a method can mean the difference between success and failure.

So it’s important to keep trying. Although it’s easy to say, “don’t get frustrated”, this will often happen. It’s important to consciously move beyond frustration in order to achieve our goals. It might also take longer for a TBI survivor to achieve educational goals. Kelli Williams Gary describes how she was able to overcome the many difficulties associated with her condition: and most significantly, that it took several tries to actually complete her education. She started slow to get used to the process of retraining her brain, and eventually relearned study skills and was reintegrated into the school. She was able to build back slowly, and eventually completed her PhD in Occupational Therapy. It took her longer than the average person, but she was able to finish her degrees.

G. Ian Bowles, brain injury survivor and BIST Communications Committee Chair

For more strategies and tips for returning to school after a TBI, visit Duke Medicine and Brain Injury Hub

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.

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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.

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