December 12, 2007

Changing the way we see disability

For a seasonal heart warmer, you can't do much better than the creative animated ad campaign entitled Creature Discomforts (video, sound alert) that is running on BBC. The ads are sponsored by Leonard Cheshire Disability to raise awareness for and change attitudes towards disability. The theme cues off a popular BBC series, Creature Comforts.

As is often the case, the story behind the story is also interesting. The voiceovers for each of the animated characters in the spots are actual disabled persons. Flash the Sausage Dog is a man named Alex who has been disabled for 25 years since an on-the-job fall that damaged his spine. You can get a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse (part 2) of the making of these spots and learn more about the participants.

In workers comp, we spend a lot of time trying to prevent disability. We also focus a lot of effort on recovery and return to work programs, with a focus on "ability" rather than "disability." It wasn't always this way. Years ago, most employers refused to take someone back to work until they were fully recovered - even when the person was willing and could do most of the job without any problems. Early return to work was a difficult concept to sell to many employers, who were often reluctant to make temporary accommodations to ease a person back to work. Yet without an active recovery, depression and disability syndrome can often occur. For most people, income, identity and feelings of self-worth are tied to work and productivity. Today, most employers understand that helping injured workers get back to their normal lives, including work, is an important part of recovery. This is true whether an injury or illness occurs on the job or off.

To ensure success for a stay-at-work or return-to-work program, it can be helpful to get buy in from all employees. This is often best done by explaining the organization's philosophy and policies in an orientation program or as part of other human resource communications rather than as a reactive measure when the need arises. Co-workers need to understand the importance of their support and the role they play in helping recovering and disabled colleagues in the workplace. The Creature Discomfort campaign might be useful tools to open talks or discussions about attitudes and practices related to disability.

| 3 Comments

3 Comments

A large part of the problem with being a disabled worker is that the second you mention you have a problem with X, you will not get the job.

My combination of major back surgery, coupled with chronic pain, further complicated by being over 50 has made meaningful employment impossible.

Face it; some injured workers who do not recover, even if they have some ability to do some work, will never be able to work again. Don't blame the injured worker.

Employers must look in the mirror and realize that they are discriminating against an injured worker, no doubt worrying about another injury, increased usage of health care, having someone who might need accommodations with hours, etc. On the other hand, it is a business decision, and it's all about the bottom line.

I believe more injured workers should have an easier time getting total permanent worker's comp., because the reality is that is all that is available to some, but we know comp. doesn't want its bottom line affected, either, nor do adjusters want their bonuses cut.

Time for a seachange in the way comp. is done.

You're right that it can be very difficult for some injured workers to get back to work, but I believe you are wrong it posing that the best fix for this problem is "total permanent workers' comp." There are other ways to fix the problem.

For example, Oregon has a wide variety of return-to-work programs, such as the preferred worker program, employer at injury program, and others. Employers receive incentives for hiring injured workers, and workers receive reimbursements for costs associated with finding a new job - including worksite modifications, job training, relocation costs, etc. The programs are under utilized, but seem to work well.

From everything I have gleaned, Oregon treats injured workers poorly.

The return to work "programs" you describe probably benefit the infrastructure of the programs far more than the injured worker.

Total permanent comp. in my state, MA, is 60% of former wages. By law the allowable amount of "income replacement" is 80%.

An injured worker can probably live better on the 80%, be it a combination of comp, SSD or LTD than at a probable much lower wage job than they had before with no assurance that thatjob will last, and therefore no assurance that they will have any form of health care, let alone care for their work related injuries, which, of course, is provided under permanent total WC.

In the case of certain types of spinal injuries, even an "easy" job at a computer can cause more damage, as would 8 hours of sitting, with or without breaks.

One in four people will not be able to work until retirement due to illness or injury. This is a fact. Let us accept this and come to grips with the fact that when an injury happens on the job it ought to be the responsibility of the employer to not impoverish an individual injured during the course of ones employment.

Ah, but that, too, would be a business decision, and the bottom line is clearly more important to employers; their insurers pay untold millions of dollars to lobby our elected officials to convince them that all injured workers are faking it. This is why we have the system we have, IMHO bought and paid for by the insurance companies and the lawyers. It is they, on behalf of business, who place obstacles at every turn, further compromising both the physical and emotional health of the injured worker. Shame on them!

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Julie Ferguson published on December 12, 2007 10:45 AM.

California Scheming: The State Fund Audit was the previous entry in this blog.

News roundup: Health Wonk Review, survival story, manhole covers, I.C.E. followup, OSHA agenda is the next entry in this blog.

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