5 strategies for returning to work after a disability

There are some disabilities that people are born with or develop slowly over time. Others occur quickly and unexpectedly, known as sudden onset disabilities. Every type of disability can pose challenges to a person’s ability to work in a timely and efficient manner. However, the phrase “returning to work” likely refers to a sudden onset disability that may impact a person’s work abilities.

Returning to work after a disability, such as a brain injury, spinal cord injury or stroke, means taking into account how your physical, emotional and cognitive functions may affect how you’re able to complete your job’s responsibilities. The good news is that there are plenty of strategies that can help both your mind and body as you return to your job following a disability.

5 mental, emotional and physical strategies to help employees return to work following a disability

As you go through rehabilitation after your disability, your care team will provide you with physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and neuropsychology services. They can help you improve your affected motor skills, cognitive function and emotional regulation. Their goal is to help you reintegrate back into your workplace with the strategies needed to complete your work. They can help you restore a sense of normalcy and productivity.

There are plenty of mental, emotional and physical strategies that can help you return to work after a disability. Here are five to consider: 

  • Practice self-compassion — The residual effects of your disability may interfere with your functional abilities related to work. For instance, you may have impaired fine motor skills, making it difficult to type on a computer. Or maybe it takes a bit longer to concentrate. It’s important to be kind to yourself and set realistic expectations. Neuropsychology services can help you practice self-compassion.
  • Open several lines of communication — Open communication is essential in every aspect of your life. Your rehabilitation team will assist you with planning when and what to disclose to your employer regarding your disability prior to returning to work. They can also assist as you communicate your request for accommodations to HR. Once you have returned to work, maintain open lines of communication with your supervisor and co-workers, sharing as you feel comfortable. 
  • Take breaks when needed — Breaks during the workday are essential for every employee in all industries. They’re especially beneficial for those returning to work after a disability. If you feel physical or mental fatigue, be sure that you give both your mind and body a moment to reset. You can discuss additional breaks with your employer as an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help — It’s good to take pride in your work and be confident in your abilities. Although having a disability doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re no longer able to do your job at all, there is a chance that your work is impacted in some way that’s out of your control. Know when it’s OK to speak up and ask for assistance. It can not only reduce your physical or mental strain, but it can also strengthen your communication abilities with your co-workers.
  • Use assistive technology and equipment — Assistive tools are some of the biggest benefits of rehabilitation that can transfer over to your workplace. Talk with your employer and medical providers to determine the best tools that will increase your accessibility, comfort and productivity on the job. For example, assistive technology for computer work can include alternative keyboards, adaptive software for speech to text or text to speech for efficient computer access, and screen readers. These can help you complete your work tasks while adapting those tasks to your different abilities. 

It’s important to collaborate with your employer and medical providers. Be sure that the right precautions and accommodations can be made at your job to ensure your safety.

Ability KC’s employment services can help you return to work after a disability

It’s possible to continue to thrive in your workplace after a disability. At Ability KC, we not only can help you improve your cognitive, physical and emotional function as much as possible, but we can also make sure that you return to the workforce with the support and resources you deserve.

We have many employment services at Ability KC, including Return-to-Work Navigators. They will help you reach your employment goals by connecting you with essential resources needed to return to work while also continuing post-care services after rehabilitation. 

Ability KC is a designated Comprehensive Outpatient Rehabilitation Facility (CORF) with a Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) accreditation. Contact our team today for more information or to schedule an initial appointment.