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Disability Employment Awareness Month

Disability Employment Awareness Month…It’s a Win-Win
By Nanette Bowles

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. People with disabilities make up the fastest growing minority popular in the world. Most of us will be, directly or indirectly, affected by a disability at some point in our lives so if you are not a person with a disability or know someone who is…well, I’m shocked but hope you see that this blog is for all of us.

Anyone who’s ever been unemployed see’s how important that regular paycheck is. Work in an integral part of our society. Through our labors we can pay our bills, purchase what we need, save for our future (hopefully), give to others, etc. Through our employer, we hopefully have access to benefits such as medical and dental insurance. In addition to these tangible earnings, we keep our mind and body sharp and in shape. We socialize with others, problem solve, work in teams and overall make ourselves better.

But…

What would happen if you became injured, whether it was on the job or not? The first reality is that you need to heal but may find that you cannot go back to your regular job duties. Now, you may enjoy staying home for a while but eventually this would not be as “fun” as it first seemed. You would have medical bills, probably reduced income and the worry that you may be replaced at work and lose your job and career. Doctors often prescribe light duty in order to protect you from injuring yourself more but light duty is often not an accommodation employers make.

According to Dr. Jennifer Christian, from Webility.md, this affects the employee, employer and economy. It’s harmful to the employee as it disrupts their daily life, creates isolation and self-doubt and can cause a loss of self-esteem. When a person hears their Dr. say, “You can’t…” they sometimes don’t mentally make it back to the point of “I can!” even when their body is ready. This can all lead to other physical and mental health complications. This is also disruptive and costly for the employer, as it reduces productivity and creates unnecessary hassle and expense. Finally, it’s wasteful for the economy as it diverts dollars from productive use and reduces to overall economic efficiency. How many people are on long-term disability who could have avoided that if they had been able to return to light duty? In the end, everyone pays and lives are changed.

When an employee can Stay-at-Work or Return-to-Work (SAW/RTW), that’s a win-win for everyone. As much as possible, we need to create the least amount of disruption to the employee, employer and economy.

A national effort to do just that is called the “60 Summits Project”. More information can be found at: http://www.60summits.org/. To learn more about various and practical accommodation for individuals with disabilities in the workplace, go to: http://askjan.org/.