Older man in pain holdin his back

 Returning to Work After a Spinal Cord Injury

A spinal cord injury (SCI) is an event that permanently alters the course of your life, including your employment. It’s common to wonder about working after a spinal cord injury, and to have several questions and concerns.

There are many jobs that are possible to continue working in much the same way as before your injury, while other jobs may need to be adapted to meet your needs. Sometimes it’s necessary to find a new career path, but whatever you need there are resources and programs specifically designed to help you navigate the post-injury job market.

The Benefits of Returning to Work After a Spinal Cord Injury

For most people the primary reason to work is to earn a living, but while that is an essential element to gainful employment, it is far from the only reason to work. By pursing a career, you benefit from much more than an income. Finding a fulfilling career has a wide range of benefits, including new friendships, improved quality of life, independence, mental stimulation, structure, and insurance.

While there are many benefits to working, there are some challenges to working with a spinal cord injury and it’s good to be informed and prepared.

Vocational Rehabilitation After Spinal Cord Injury

When it comes to your career future, the great news is there are people and organizations dedicated to helping you back into the workforce after a spinal cord injury. Commonly referred to as ‘vocational rehabilitation’, these programs are designed to help you find employment that fits both your needs and your desires.

Vocational rehabilitation is generally a four-step process:

  1. Assessment: A specialist will help with an assessment that identifies your personality traits, health needs, skills, and education with an eye towards finding a job that fits as many of your needs and wishes as possible.
  2. Real-Life Tests: It’s hard to know how a specific job will go without some real-world experience. By conducting real-life tests, a therapist can help you test out a potential job without the stress of a real job situation.
  3. Job Market Review: Most vocational rehabilitation programs will conduct a job market review to determine the demand for a wide range of possible career options. It helps to have guidance while you sort through both the potential job market and your physical/mental needs.
  4. Job Search Assistance: When it comes time to start the actual job search process, a vocational rehabilitation program will help with setting up interviews and understanding some of the more complex issues and questions you may have surrounding the job search process after a spinal cord injury.

Changing Careers after a Spinal Cord Injury

In some cases, a new career path is needed after a spinal cord injury. If you find you need to switch professions, every state has federally funded vocational programs to help you find jobs that are in demand, and in which you could be fulfilled. Vocational rehabilitation professionals can also help you obtain any workplace accommodations and tools you need, including assistance with transportation and assistive technology.

Starting the Interview Process

Assessing the job market, matching it with your needs and desires, and determining the career path that is right for you is only part of what is needed.  You may have a gap in your resumé during the time you were undergoing treatment, rehabilitation, or other situation related to your injury. Most experts advise that it’s important to let your employer or potential employer know what this is, and why. It’s okay to allay their potential concerns, even if you don’t know whether they have any. It helps everyone involved to be as informed as possible.

When you prepare to start interviewing, it is important to familiarize yourself with all the appropriate laws and regulations around Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance, discrimination, and accommodation.

Americans with Disabilities Act – Get Informed

The ADA protects all persons who have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. According to the ADA, any person that can satisfy job requirements cannot be discriminated against due to his or her disability.

The ADA ensures that you have equal opportunity to apply for (and work in) a job of your choice, that you have equal opportunity to be promoted, and that you are not harassed because of your disability.

Further, your employer has a responsibility to provide reasonable accommodations, including providing accessible equipment, adjusting work hours to allow for morning routines, and shifting minor responsibilities to other employees. The one exception to this rule is if the accommodation would cause undue hardship on the business.

If you suspect you are, or have been, the victim of discrimination, it is important to speak with an expert on your concerns before proceeding.

Stay Positive

Going back to work after a spinal cord injury can be an uncertain time full of questions and concerns, but if you access all the information and resources there are out there to help, you will feel more empowered. While it takes time and patience to mentally and physically adjust to changes – either in the job you had pre-injury or in a new career – the rewards and benefits far exceed the challenges.