Two Quadriplegics and a Paraplegic Share Inspirational Thoughts From the Workplace Page 1

Overcoming the challenge of disabilities in the workplace— Interviews with people who have done it

By Charles H. Fleisher The Opportunities Guy, motivational speaker and founder of the nonprofit 501(c)(3) Friends Overcoming Adversity( with disabilities still find it hard to identify and retain good work opportunities today—despite the progress made since the passage of the Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA).The challenge is even more difficult for those with spinal chord injuries (SCIs). In this article, Charles Fleisher interviews three people who have made successful transitions into the workplace using their former skills. This article profiles a medical student, a fireman, and a massage therapist whose spinal cord injuries necessitated dramatic changes in their career paths.

These individuals have succeeded in carving out careers despite the severe roadblock caused by spinal injuries. I interviewed them about what it has taken to function successfully in the workplace in the hope that their experience could provide inspiration to others—and also perhaps help employers realize what they could gain by including such inspiring individuals in their workforce.

There are millions of individuals with a nearly unlimited variety of disabilities in the American workplace. Individuals with Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries and more have carved out satisfying professional lives. In the not too distant past, it was relatively rare to see —making it possible for them to not only lead active lives but achieve high levels of professional satisfaction.

 A key factor has been the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which heightened public awareness of those with disabilities and forced employers and public places to provide disability access. Since that time, some employers have become champions of hiring those with disabilities. (See our Bonus Feature at the end of this article for more details.)Before going into these profiles, however, I would like to give some basic information on the different types of injuries, which I speak out about as a result of my own experience, as well as my wider commitment to this arena.Spinal cord injuries and the aftermathSpinal cord injuries (SCIs) result in the loss of function, control, and sensation to certain parts of the body. The amount of paralysis or disability that results depends upon the extent of damage to the spinal cord, the location of the damage, and the severity. Our spinal columns are a series of bones which, among other functions, protect our spinal cords. The bone highest is Cervical 1, Coccyx being the lowest. Each vertebra protects a different area of the spinal cord, and each area of the spinal cord controls a different area of the body. Many times when a section of the spinal column is damaged it will crush or damage the soft tissue spinal cord it surrounds. This is primarily how SCI occurs. All three of the people I interviewed have very different spinal cord injuries.In the article I focus primarily on their work life. Each one suffered a spinal cord injury and after that, moved back into the work force under very different terms. I spoke with them over the course of several hours to try and gain some insights into what it’s like transitioning back into the workplace. All three were able to return to work only after intense physical and occupational rehabilitation. The process they had to endure is a testament to their hard work and desire, and it demonstrates their perseverance. Each one is proud of the level of service they provide, and, without exceptionthey claim that in order to be a valuable employee, an individual must go above and beyond what is expected—spinal injury or not.All three were able to return to work only after intense physical and occupational rehabilitation”

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The Diversity Factor © 2009

ISSN 1545-2808

Spring 2009

Initiatives that trigger change

Volume 17, Number 2


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