It’s not easy figuring everything out life after you’ve had a spinal cord injury, especially when it comes to pursuing employment. You’ve just figured out how to catheterize yourself and transfer yourself. Going back to work? That’s a whole other level of transitioning back to “normal” life, and it can take some time.
What if you were a bricklayer, a dancer, or a construction worker before your injury? Chances are you’re not going to return to that job; this happens to thousands of people with spinal cord injuries. Your next option is to find a job you can still do, and Vocational Rehabilitation workers (definition: government workers tasked to help PWD find jobs) are the people who do just that.
Most rehabilitation centers also have a Vocational Department with employees who can help you find work. Sometimes, they’ll have you take tests to find your best skills to put you in the best possible job. A lot of people with spinal cord injuries go into the computer world, for example.
But if computers aren’t your thing, there are a lot of other professions you can try. Writing, law, teaching, architecture, fashion design, business ownership, psychology, medicine—the options are endless. A vocational rehab counselor will help you identify the best jobs that are available for you, and they will help you figure out appropriate accommodations for your work.
What’s great about Vocational Rehab is that they will get you back your professional life. Your professional life may look slightly different than before, but you can find a job that you love no matter your ability. It just takes a little bit of time and an open-minded employer.
Is Vocational Rehab Always Necessary?
Some may be thinking, “I don’t necessarily need a vocational rehab counselor” after their injury, and that is okay. Some people go back to work within months and return to their old job without any problems. These people are awesome, especially if they have a family to support (still being the breadwinner can be a great motivator).
If this is you, you may not need a vocational rehab counselor, but you never know. And after returning to work, you may find out your old job isn’t the right fit anymore; if this is the case, you can always meet with a vocational rehab counselor through an outpatient program. Just call your nearest VR agency and tell them your situation. Further education or training may be needed before you enter the workforce again, and they can help you with that as well.
Maintain Your Benefits While Working
If you go back to work, the good news is that you can keep your benefits and still work. Many people who take on part-time jobs are still able to keep their benefits. You can also sign up for the Ticket to Work program and make as much money as you would like for a nine-month trial period (all while maintaining your benefits!) to see if you’re ready to work.
You can also keep your Medicaid benefits and work a full-time job in most states by enrolling in a specific “Employed Persons with Disabilities” Medicaid program. To find out your state’s specific benefit program for people with disabilities returning to work, visit this site: https://choosework.ssa.gov/find-a-job/index.html
- Vocational rehab counselors will help you find jobs you can still do (and enjoy)
- Vocational counselors will sometimes use tests to figure out career choices
- When you are in rehab, you are likely to be assigned a vocational counselor. Don’t be afraid to use their services
- With time and patience, you will find a job that can support you
Vocational Rehab Resources
- Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment http://www.benefits.va.gov/vocrehab/index.asp
- Voc Rehab Offices by State http://www.fda.gov/downloads/AboutFDA/WorkingatFDA/UCM277757.pdf
- CRF Vocational Rehab http://www.christopherreeve.org/site/c.mtKZKgMWKwG/b.4467575/k.76B2/Vocational_Rehabilitation.htm#
- Employment after Spinal Cord Injury (PDF) – Employment after Spinal Cord Injury (PDF) – UAB-SCIMS http://www.msktc.org/lib/docs/Factsheets/SCI_Employment_after_SCI.pdf