OVERCOMING BARRIERS TO EMPLOYMENT POST BRAIN INJURY
From an objective observer’s point of view, a person who lives with a traumatic brain injury is perfectly fine. Many TBI victims can perform the activities of daily living without a problem, maintain normal conversations, sustain meaningful relationships and, for all intents and purposes, do what any other healthy persons are able to do. Yet, those who live with or are close to a person with a TBI in Virginia know that a brain injury can irreparably alter one’s personality and drastically reduce his or her physical capabilities. These changes may make it difficult for a TBI victim to obtain and maintain gainful employment.
According to the Brain Injury Association of America, brain injury patients often live with several persistent impairments that make it difficult to find and keep a job. Many of those impairments are cognitive in nature and may include difficulties communicating, reasoning, paying attention to a task at hand, problem-solving and recalling learned information. Several TBI victims live with emotional impairments, such as depression, anxiety and difficulty controlling one’s temper. It is not uncommon for TBI patients to also live with physical deficiencies, such as impaired vision, tinnitus, fatigue and loss of coordination.
After sustaining a TBI, a person may find it difficult to perform the duties of his or her job in a safe and effective manner. More often than not, victims either lose their jobs or quit out of frustration. To keep the unemployment rates of TBI victims down, many states have adopted vocational rehabilitation programs geared toward helping disabled individuals — particularly those with brain injuries—overcome common barriers to employment. A Brain Injury Association of America brochure details the common elements of a successful VR program.
The first element is early intervention. The sooner a person begins to think about and planning to work, the greater the odds are of him or her finding and maintaining a job.
The second element is employer education. Many brain injury patients do not want future employers to know about their condition. However, studies indicate that when employers are informed, they are better able to accommodate an employee’s needs.
Work trials are also essential to the future success of TBI patients. Many times, a person will think he or she can perform the duties of a certain job only to discover, once in a position, he or she cannot. Skills training is also essential to the VR process, as people who live with BI often struggle to learn new skills.
Finally, long-term follow up is essential. Many people who live with TBI lose their jobs because they become upset with changes in position, company policies or management, which often results in a dip in performance. Regular follow-up by a VR counselor can help identify changes and help the employer adapt to them.