When you have suffered a spinal cord injury the idea of returning to work may seem like a daunting prospect. However, there are many ways you can help make this process slightly less overwhelming:
What is a spinal cord injury (SCI)?
The spinal cord communicates two-way messages to and from the brain and skin, muscle and organs of your body. Spinal cord damage occurs as a result of accident or illness and interrupts the flow of messages, leading to the loss of movement and/or sensation in different parts of the body. The severity of this is dependent on where the spinal cord has been damaged in relation to the vertebrae of the back and to the extent of the injury.
The benefits of returning to work?
Apart from the obvious physical impact, SCI can deeply affect your mental well-being. Depression and anxiety are a very common effect of this type of injury. Obviously, returning to work isn’t possible for everyone, but if it is an option, it can have the following positive effects:
- Renewed independence and confidence
- Improve your general health and well-being
- Increase your self-esteem and give you a sense of purpose
- Allow you to earn money and feeling like you are making a contribution
- Encourage you to socialise and meet new people
Know your rights
Make sure that you are aware of all of your workplace rights. As a person with a disability you are legally protected by the Equality Act 2010. This ensures that you are legally entitled to fair treatment when it comes to recruitment, promotion and pay. It also means that employers must make their workplaces accessible to you. This may be by adapting the office equipment to make it easier for you to work, e.g. speech recognition software. Or by ensuring that you meet with an occupational therapist to discuss your skills, abilities and concerns so that they can come up with viable work options.
There are also two government schemes that you can access to help with your return to work:
- Access To Work – provides money towards the cost of equipment or support workers that can help you to work.
- Work Choice – a scheme that helps people with disabilities who cannot be helped by any other work scheme, get back into work.
For further information and help on returning back into the work place visit GOV.UK here.
You may be able to claim government benefits to help you return to work. Employment Support Allowance is offered not only to people who are unable to work due to disability/illness, but also to people who need personalised help so that they are able to work if they want to.
If your SCI was as the result of an accident that wasn’t your fault you may be able to claim compensation. Specialist companies like First4SeriousInjury can advise as to whether you are applicable for compensation and support you throughout your claim journey, reducing the stress involved in receiving what you may be owed.
Before we get into those, let’s get into the benefits of re-entering the workforce. Life changes so much after a spinal cord injury, that going back to work can provide a semblance of normalcy needed by the survivor. Work allows the survivor to feel useful, engage his or her brain, apply his or her talents and experience, and make friends and social connections. No wonder why it’s one of the main goals of all SCI survivors following rehabilitation!
However, a re-entry that isn’t thoughtful can have negative consequences. To that end, we suggest the survivor spend some time being assessed and counselled by a vocational therapist. The vocational therapist will assess the skills, interests, and capabilities of the person, and will help him or her come up with viable work options. The therapist can also ensure that the work environment is modified in a way that gives the survivor the best chance of success. Survivors who had jobs with certain physical requirements may need to change jobs or careers following the injury, while other people can perform their prior jobs with just a few adaptations. In either case, what’s most important is that the strengths of the survivor are focused on, instead of the weaknesses. Most vocational therapists, working with both the survivor and the employer, will develop a strategy designed to help the person succeed.