Staying Employed While Disabled
Having to adapt to the dramatic changes brought by COVID-19 has been a major hardship for many Americans trying to hold on to a job and stay afloat. However, for those with lifechanging disabilities, the dramatic upheavals of 2020 may have brought a bit of a silver lining. “During the “Summer of COVID” many of our clients have reported that it has been easier for those with a disability, such as a severe brain injury, to get and maintain employment,” said Carrie Collins-Fadell, executive director of the Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona.
“We have clients who are sensitive to light or noise after brain injury. Many requested to work part-time from home as an accommodation and were denied because it was believed that they could not integrate into the team while working remotely. With COVID so many workers picked up their laptops, went home, and smashed those work-from-home myths that have kept our clients chronically unemployed or underemployed,” Carrie continued.
Those who face neuor-fatigue may have also faced a lack of accommodations at work. Due to neuro-fatigue, a common side-effect of brain injury many survivors of brain injury say they’re more accustomed to working shorter hours and taking on temporary assignments, which may have been met with skepticism in the traditional work world. While real-life struggles that anyone can face such as childcare, the adjustment and isolation of working from home many workers are facing is often less challenging for those with brain injury.
The Numbers Tell A Story
This is all good news because chronic unemployment is no myth, it is a real problem the disability community. Right now, the pain of double-digit unemployment is being felt everywhere, but while the meteoric rise in unemployment has been devastating for many Americans, it has been even more prevalent among those with disabilities. Early statistics bear that out: From March to April 2020, the number of employed working-age people with disabilities was reduced by 20 percent. At the same time, those without disabilities decreased only 14 percent.
Plus, more people with disabilities were “furloughed” (temporarily laid off, first in line to be rehired) than those without disabilities, 78 to 73 percent. Not surprising, as long-term trends indicate people with disabilities always face a tougher uphill climb in the working world.
The statistics for those who are disabled overall are even more true for those who live with the “invisible disability” of brain injury where it might not be acutely aware that an accommodation is needed. You wouldn’t expect a new hire who showed up in a wheelchair to traverse a flight of stairs. Providing an elevator or life is a natural accommodation. However, often when brain injury survivors ask for accommodations like natural lighting or a longer afternoon break to accommodate neuro-fatigue they are often met with skepticism from employers. “What our clients are often desperately hungry for is for life to return to normal prior to their cognitive deficits, so many of them don’t ask for the accommodations which could enhance their success because they don’t want to stand out or be a problem,” Carrie said. “While we are all dealing with uncertainty and stress, COVID has leveled the employment playing field in some aspects.”
Technology Is King
One of the new realities of the summer of COVID is that technology is king which has revolutionized how everyone interacts with healthcare providers. This is especially true for brain injury survivors. One of the hallmarks of brain injury recovery is ongoing medical appointments and interactions with specialists for sometimes years after the injury. This can be a barrier to employment for some. “Perhaps before COVID you had to routinely take time off from a job for physical therapy or going to a doctor’s appointment to keep medications current. If you live in a rural area, it can easily take half a day to make it downtown, park, navigate a large medical campus, and then be seen by your provider,” said Carrie.
This is after you’ve made special arrangements with your employer for time off and juggled your schedule. With COVID safety precautions, overnight the barriers to telehealth were removed and what use to take an entire day to navigate can now be a 30-minute physical therapy appointment or 15-minute appointment that fits pretty seamlessly into a lunch break without your employer even needing to know if you are working remotely.
Training and even interviews are now often completed remotely and virtually. Many survivors quickly mastered Zoom if they were not familiar before, as their medical appointment, support groups, and even family reunions moved online. Will Grove of the Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona Resource Team has found that even survivors of brain injury who weren’t familiar, quickly mastered the technology and excelled at it. His team also practiced with those who were not familiar.
However, seeking and staying employed in the enhanced work from home era still takes a lot of planning. “Keep in mind there are several hurdles to overcome when working remotely,” says Janice Podzimek, Interpersonal Violence Liaison for the Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona. “Number one, training is more difficult and time-consuming. Number two, it’s harder to acclimate to an existing corporate culture. And number three, there’s always a sense of ‘out of sight, out mind,’ which makes the remote worker more vulnerable and feel like they’re not part of the team.”
As a former Employment Specialist, Janice has a simple message. “During times like these, you may not get your dream job, so be willing to make compromises. You never know, you may end up liking it more than you thought.”
For more information on your specific situation, reach out to the Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona at 1-888-500-9165 or firstname.lastname@example.org. All BIAAZ services are free.
ABOUT BRAIN INJURY ALLIANCE OF ARIZONA
The Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona (BIAAZ) is the only statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of adults and children with all types of brain injuries through prevention, advocacy, awareness, and education. BIAAZ also houses the Arizona Brain Health Resource Center, a collection of educational information and neuro-specific resources for brain injury survivors, caregivers, family members, and professionals.
What began in 1983 as a grassroots effort has grown into a strong statewide presence, providing valuable life-long resources and community support for individuals with all types of brain trauma at no charge.
The Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona:
- Works with the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force
- Houses Arizona Brain Health Resource Center
- Hosts the Statewide Opioid Use Disorder & Cognitive Impairment Workgroup
- Deploys a Statewide Opioid Use Disorder & Cognitive Impairment Response Team with peer support, training and family wraparound services
- Facilitates the Brain Health Advisory Council
- Manages a Statewide Neuro Info-Line 888-500-9165