Did you know that you have a 20% chance of becoming disabled at some point in your work life? It isn't always the obvious things like loss of vision or hearing or the loss of a limb. It could be a condition that is not immediately obvious. For example, PTSD from military service, or another mental health issue like depression or anxiety that puts you out of commission for a while. If it does happen to you, you'll probably discover that in addition to adjusting your day-to-day routine, you'll have to manage the disability at work. Among the questions you might face:
• Will your old job still be waiting for you, and if it changes, will the change be permanent?
• What happens to benefits while on disability leave?
• Will co-workers be responsible for a larger workload to accommodate the disability?
• What is a "reasonable accommodation"?
• Will my co-workers question the change in workload, especially if the disability isn't apparent?
The key point to keep in mind is that you and those around you need to feel comfortable with the changed circumstances. This requires you to educate yourself and others about what you need.
Become Familiar with Workplace Programs and Policies
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with medical problems who are worse off than the average person in their ability to walk, see, hear or engage in other "major life activities" are entitled to reasonable accommodations at work. A reasonable accommodation is any modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable the disabled employee to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions. Examples that come to mind include:
• Modifying the regular work schedule
• Leave for doctor's appointments
• Acquiring or modifying equipment
• Providing qualified readers or interpreters
• Appropriately modifying exams, training, or other programs
In larger organizations, there is often a division that has been set aside to help employees who are managing a disability. An accommodation manager can provide you with materials and resources to help you with the process. You will want to inform the specialist about your condition, including the changes you want and why you believe they would help. Your doctor's recommendation will aid in the process. Normal circumstances dictate that medical documentation will determine the specific accommodations made for a case.
For additional information on the steps involved in requesting an accommodation, visit the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission's website.
Have a Support System in Place
As with most stressful events in life, you are more likely to manage the challenge successfully with a trusted, reliable network of friends, family, and workplace colleagues. If one doesn't already exist at work, consider organizing a disability support group that can address questions, identify resources and advocate on your behalf. Be clear if and when something you share is confidential, and let the group know how to help you in the event of an emergency.
Communicate Clearly and Promptly
Give feedback about what you need so that you can perform your job to the level expected by your supervisor. For example, if changes are made with respect to performance measures that do not take your needs into consideration, say so. Asked to be included in planning. Make it clear that you want to participate in activities as fully as possible. If and when conflicts arise, address the issues immediately----not at the time of your job review.
If you'd like to discuss something in your life with a counselor, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Renee Mooneyhan and Mary McClain
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