After experiencing disability, returning to work can be transformative, giving you the power and the confidence to face other challenges, large and small. Because disabilities vary greatly, and no two people’s stories look the same, there’s no single, generic piece of advice that I can give to people who want to return to work. Instead I’ve put together five tips that are applicable to anyone with a disability who is considering diving back to the workplace.
- Do a reality check. People with disabilities need to be realistic about a career that they will be able to sustain given their disability. This can require some work on your end. Finding a career that you can succeed in, even if it’s not the one you originally planned for, is part of looking at the bigger picture of life.
- Sharpen your skills. Focus on developing the skills necessary for the career you want (and can reasonably pursue). For someone with a disability, it’s a good idea to try to focus on developing strengths — like good technology and communication skills — that will allow you to work virtually. There are more opportunities than ever to work from home, and that’s good news for someone with a disability
- Go back to class. Take specific skill-related classes, or to volunteer in an area related to your future career. Volunteering is a good move for someone who is currently unemployed and needs to build up his or her assets. One of my clients decided she didn’t want to return to her previous career and instead wanted to re-invent herself. The client did what I call “smart volunteer work” and this allowed her to build her contacts and networks while gaining skills at the same time. Within about a year, she was offered a paid position in her new field.
- Start small. Some of my clients have been able to find part-time work in the field they’re looking to enter. Working part-time will give you training and income, and also enable you to explore whether you are in the right career for your health, both physically and mentally.
- Nurture your mental health. In my book, Women, Work, and Autoimmune Disease, I wrote about how I lacked mental resilience when I was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 27, and it took time for me develop this again. To cultivate your physical resilience, you must have the mental reliance that comes from a place called hope. Hope is the belief that your life can be fulfilling despite a physical (and often financial) setback like having to quit work due to a disability.
Ultimately, I tell most of my clients to go back to work if they can, because not doing so can make them feel worse over the long term. The resilience to keep going, despite whatever obstacles may stand in your way, will make you a stronger person and employee.
Rosalind Joffe is a co-author of Women, Work, and Autoimmune Disease: Keep Working, Girlfriend! and the founder of cicoach.com, a career-coaching practice that helps people with chronic illnesses develop workplace skills.
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