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Working With Impairment Without Disability Can be Possible

Posted Sep 29 2009 10:06pm

Last week,  I spoke at a conference called, “Impairment Without Disability” at the Mayo Clinic. It was targeted to help physicians and supervisors  understand what they can do to help people with impairments stay at work (SAW) or return to work (RTW).

In the world of Occupational Medicine — (the field is actually called the Association of Occupational and Environmental Medicine) –  SAW and RTW are topics that are often discussed.   But the idea of impairment without disability is new.

I was delighted this is at least being discussed.  Don’t you think it’s a  critical component in the  quest to be able to continue to work living with illness?

It’s surprising that so many people don’t know that just because you can’t do something (impairment) doesn’t mean you can’t do anything!  And that applies to work, too!

Unfortunately, it’s not just employers.  I’ve seen  from the emails I get and my clients that many physicians don’t understand this concept, either.  That’s bad.  We desperately need that support.

Also, there’s a  body of research in the Occ Med world that proves that work IS good for you. It prolongs life and people stay healthier.  That goes for people with chronic illness as well.  Apparently this is documented in an Occ Med textbook  but it’s not generally known.  I’m going to try to get it and will share what I learn.   I referred to a few studies  in my book, Women Work and Autoimmune Disease: Keep Working, Girlfriend.

These are 5  points I made to physicians regarding how what they can do to make it easier for people with invisible illness (and impairments) to keep working, including:

  1. Encourage the idea that working promotes good health – Clearly this means if a person can find a job and a job that is essentially a positive experience.
  2. Flexible office hours for frequent users who are employed – I’m not referring to an entire practice but to open the schedule wider for those who need to see their doctors frequently and have difficulty because it requires time off from work.
  3. Have creative ways to communicate with your patients that are frequent users, such as email.
  4. Discuss work status frequently and don’t assume because some isn’t working, they can’t or don’t want to.
  5. Document informal accommodations patients make at work – this is particularly important for those who eventually make formal requests.

What would you add to this list?

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