Out For The Count

Walter was policeman who kept fall-
ing asleep on duty. He’d stop at traffic lights and nod off. He suspects he was asleep when he once crashed police car.
When diagnosed with sleep apnoea, his employers gave him desk job and bed in the back of the station while he was undergoing treatment. Eventually he left the police force, set up his own business and changed his lifestyle to accommodate his condition.
The first clue for Leigh was an aching wrist one Monday morning.
She put it down to the heavy lifting from clearing under the house in the weekend. “It’ll disappear in the next week or so,” she told herself. But the ache turned into persistent pain. Soon, the draughstwoman found it hard holding her pen for long periods and couldn’t lift carton of milk with her right hand. Within two years, she was forced to reduce her draughting hours and take up lecturing.
As these sketches show, one minute you can be enjoying career and lifestyle you’ve worked hard for. The next you can find yourself injured, or with condition that’s with you for the rest of your life.
Suddenly or slowly, you discover you can’t do your job as usual. Life as you know it changes; the future is scary place.

Hidden dangers of home
As Leigh’s case illustrates, every week hundreds of people injure themselves around the home.
Last year ACC received 32,000 claims from accidents around the home; things such as sprains to ankles, wrists, backs, etc.
Sport and recreation are big accident categories, with 24,000 claims to ACC. The workplace notched up 14,000 claims, and accidents on the road generated 11,000 claims.
Of the total 1.5 million claims ACC received last year, most were for medical fees, where people visited the doctor, received treatment, and were back at work in week or two.
Some people never return to the workplace; 8000 ACC claimants have been off work 10 years and over.
Then there’s group of people who spend long time off work as they learn new skills and start new careers. ACC has ll,000 people who are off work from five to 10 years.

Who’s bullet proof?
OK, so you think you’re bullet proof.
You reckon you won’t fall down, trip over, sprain something, or have an accident.
But remember, it’s not just sudden accident that can force you from your career.
As Walter’s story illustrates, many of us will develop our disabilities over time.
We’ll develop conditions like OOS, arthritis, deafness, depression, poor eyesight, headaches, stress, insomnia, heart or kidney disorders – the list goes on.
We have no idea what these might be, when they might show themselves, or how incapacitating they will become.
Then there’s host of disabilities you might be born with; deafness, blindness, serious asthma, epilepsy, all of which may segregate you in the career market.

Disabled in competitive
Whether it’s sudden injury, developed condition or condition you’re born with, in competitive job market these disabilities can spell problems.
How will you cope with your career when you have disability?
What will you do if you need flexible hours, maybe only three working hours day, or job where you need special workstations, or people to physically help you.
Until 10 years ago you were pretty much on your own. But today people whose disabilities might put them at the end of the queue in traditional recruiting agencies, have fighting chance through Workbridge.
The government agency was set up 10 years ago, to help get people with disabilities back into the workforce.
“Last year from total of 10,000 jobseekers with disabilities, we placed 4000 people in jobs. It’s only shortage of positions that’s kept others from being placed,” says Pauline Winter, CEO of Workbridge.
“We need more employers with flexible policies and work practices.”
The fact that we live in time when the flexible workplace is hailed as the way of the future, is point not lost on Winter, and big part of her job is this moving of mindsets she says.
“If you think about it, 20 years ago no one expected to see people with disabilities in the workplace.”
Thankfully, the combination of technology, and growth of equal opportunities are creating more even playing field for people with disabilities.
“Technology is definitely evening the ground for lot of people. Also the practice of diversity is growing in the workplace, and people are starting to accept differences. We just need more employers to break down barriers for those who want to work.”
Workers with disabilities is an issue that won’t go away, Winter says. “The ongoing discoveries in medical science will continue to keep people alive, so we can expect to see more people with disabilities, as the population ages.
“We see people who are born with disability, as well as those who develop one through injury, accident or illness. Those who are born with disability are often culturally different from those whose disability is accident related. The former are well practised at navigating barriers, whereas those who’ve had an accident have to make bigger changes because they often need to do things differently.
“So it’s challenging arena.”
Winter calls it the “joy luck club”. “You get highs and lows in one day.
“The team works hard to find employers for people, and everyone celebrates when job match happens successfully, and feels down when they don’t.”
Workbridge Auckland central manager Dilkie Rajapakse has seen transformations in people who come through their office lacking confidence in the beginning, then motivated when they’re given the chance.
“Having disability can be very traumatising for people. Especially when you’ve been independent all your life, and had people depend on you. All of sudden you have to depend on your family, and people here at Workbridge to tell you what you can do.
“We take it all for granted that we have jobs that we’re good at, and we have self esteem associated with that.
“Then you discover you can’t concentrate on small thing like listening to the radio, because of sudden disability.
“It’s huge lifestyle change. You can’t do the same jobs as in the past, you lose confidence, get depressed, have low self-esteem, and people go through grieving process for that loss.”

Climbing back
“In many cases they mourn the jobs they’ve behind. Careers that were their life’s work, what they loved doing and what they were trained to do.”
Rajapakse says working with people starts with the positives.
“We start with basic things like what can you do – ?yes I can stand up, I can walk, I can concentrate for periods of time’. We build up that confidence, then work through skills that are worthwhile in the labour market.
“They’ve got to be saleable skills – we’re not saying take this person on if they can’t do the job. We’d lose our reputation with employers very quickly if that’s all we did.”
Workbridge has range of funds to cover disability costs in the workplace to help employers. Things like making adjustments to building access, or work stations, or funding support person working alongside someone who’s got bad eyesight. They also have fund for dis-abled people planning to set up their own businesses.
“There are range of options we look at, but it’s part of us negotiating with employers.”
Workbridge clients are generally referred from ACC, WINZ, as well as insurance companies.
Some arrive with lot of social problems and baggage. They’ve been through number of agencies with their injury or disability.
“We realise there will always be some who want the security of benefit and are not confident to move on,” says Rajapakse.
Giving people confidence is big task. “Timing is critical – some people have lost lot of time from working and fear going back, so we do lot of supporting.”
There’s lot of lateral thinking also.

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