Working Post-disability

By Chelle Cordero

June 15, 2017 5 min read

You've been working for the better part of your adult life, getting up early five days a week, sometimes six, to make a living. This is what you are used to. But one day all of that changes. Whether you have a car accident, develop an acute disabling illness or suffer from a disabling condition that is chronic and progressive, the day that you can no longer work changes your world in ways that are hard to fathom. Suddenly, you have been labeled "disabled."

There are myriad doctors' appointments, physical (and emotional) therapy, prosthetics or durable medical equipment to purchase, and a whole new way to learn to manage your own life. Once fully capable and self-sufficient, you are now having to relearn even the most basic daily living activities. You miss your old life and its routines. You want your self-worth and to do the one thing that you've always viewed as your success. You want to go back to work.

As you get closer to doing some of the things you used to do before and you develop a thirst for normalcy, the desire to go back to work seems impossible to ignore. Before you fill out any new job application, talk with your doctor; you may feel pretty good after short stints, but you may not be ready to take on a grueling 40-hour workweek. Whether you return to work full time or part time, whether your income is expected to be what you earned before your disability sidelined you or not and whether you return to work via one of Social Security Disability Insurance's work incentive programs or not, the Social Security Administration must be informed before you do start working.

If you are collecting Social Security disability benefits and you are between the ages of 18 and 64, there is a program called Ticket to Work. Ticket to Work arranges free vocational training, rehabilitation, job referrals and employment assistance. Most importantly, Ticket to Work may allow you to keep your benefits while you explore employment, receive vocational rehabilitation services and gain work experience. If you find that you are unable to keep working during a trial period, you may be able to resume your Social Security disability payments without having to reapply. Call the Ticket to Work help line at 866-968-7842 (TTY: 866-833-2967) for more information.

One concept often recommended for anyone who has been out of work for a long time is called work hardening. Using the principles of work hardening, you would return to work for a very limited number of hours and increase those hours over time, up to the point of your ability. This concept helps people build stamina, returns people to routine (having someplace to be each day) and allows them to know their level of endurance. Another way to prepare yourself for a return to work is through flexible volunteer opportunities, which can help you adjust to working conditions and routine. Depending on your income level when returning to work, you may be able to maintain your benefits. Speak to Social Security representatives for details at 800-772-1213 (TTY: 800-325-0778).

Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires government agencies, companies with federal contracts and any company that gets money from the federal government to strive for a workforce that is at least 7 percent made up of people with disabilities. In addition, under Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines, all employers with at least 15 employees are required to make reasonable accommodations for any disabled employee. This means that a disabled employee must be able to perform his/her essential job duties, so such accommodations as a magnified or voice-prompted computer screen, a wheelchair-accessible desk and office space, and a part-time or modified work schedule must be provided if needed, and workers cannot be discriminated against if they cannot perform nonessential tasks.

According to the Department of Labor, some of the best jobs for disabled workers include vocational counselors, tech support personnel, call center operators, statisticians, accountants, data entry operators and other computer-dependent positions. There are many valid companies that hire at-home workers and freelance consultants, which can help eliminate transportation needs and provide more flexible job hours. Employment networks contracting with the Social Security Administration can help workers with career counseling and finding ADA-compliant employers.

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