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Working after a sudden disability

For your working life, you’ve operated like everyone else. But what happens when you have a sudden disability — like a spinal cord or brain injury? To what extent can you — or should you — modify your work?

“People need time to recover physically, of course, but they also have to adjust psychologically,” says Barbara Trader, executive director of TASH, an advocacy organization for people with disabilities. “Some people decide they don’t want to go through whatever is needed to return to their old job. In that case, they should work with vocational rehabilitation professionals to figure out a new job or career path.”

But for many people, returning to a familiar workplace — with all its human connections — is a crucial part of recovery. Consultation with a wide range of professionals, from physical rehabilitation specialists to mental health therapists, as well as with supervisors and colleagues, can smooth the way back to a successful return.

“All people need time to recover and envision a life they consider valuable,” Trader says. “But the sooner they start preparing to return, the better. The longer a person stews about what’s next, the longer it takes to get back in a job. So both physical and psychological rehabilitation right after a major injury is important.”

What about less severe injuries, like broken bones? Though not permanent conditions, they nonetheless can be disruptive to workplace productivity.

“The first step is to identify how you can function best at your job level,” Trader says. That may mean asking for certain tasks to be reassigned or for a reduced workweek. You could request workplace accommodations like modifications to the height of your workstation, rearrangement of your cubicle to fit a wheelchair, or special computer software or hardware.

Many people for whom travel is an important part of their jobs find themselves derailed by a sudden injury. Creative solutions abound, including teleconferencing, shifting travel duties to a colleague, shipping materials separately so the employee does not have to tote them around and booking nonstop flights instead of those with connections.

This article was first published on Monster.com.

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