2277 Highway 36 West, Suite 200 Roseville, MN 55113-3830
Toll Free: 1-800-669-6442
Hours: Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Returning to Work and Continuing Your Education
After your brain injury, you may have to decide if and when you can return to work or college. This section addresses options for continuing employment or education and describes employment training and education programs available in Minnesota for people with disabilities, including brain injury.
Returning to Work
Depending on the nature and severity of your brain injury, you may or may not be able to return to the same job you had before your brain injury. Before returning to work, you should take extra care in assessing your job skills and abilities, as well as any changes you may have experienced. It is also helpful to get professional feedback from your doctor, rehabilitation therapists or a vocational rehabilitation counselor.
Working With Your Current Employer
If the nature of your brain injury allows you to return to work at your current job, you will want to discuss the timing of your return to work with your doctor and rehabilitation team. Sometimes, people with brain injuries return to work full time sooner than they should, which can negatively impact rehabilitation and successful return to work. Follow your doctor's instructions and take the time you need to heal before returning to work.
It is very possible that your current employer does not have the knowledge about brain injury that is needed to assist you in returning to work. Provide information in writing to your supervisor and human resources representative so that he or she can better understand how your brain injury has affected you and how he or she can help you return to work successfully. If you need assistance communicating with your employer, the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance can answer questions or provide you with educational materials to share.
When returning to work, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), you must still be able to perform the essential functions of your job with or without reasonable accommodations. Reasonable accommodations to help you perform your job might include:
- Making work areas accessible
- Allowing flexible work schedules
- Reassigning some tasks to others
- Using a job coach
Some people rely on accommodations to do their job; others use organizational tools on their own. To request workplace accommodations, you will need to disclose your disability as a result of your brain injury. Disclosing your disability is a very personal decision, but choosing to disclose gives you legal protection under the law. You will want to connect with professionals who are disability advocates and employment specialists to consider all your options. See the sample letter at the end of this section to get guidance on how to request job accommodations.
If you are unable to return to your previous job, you have several options. You could prepare for and seek new work, volunteer, or go back to school to learn and/or relearn skills.
Looking for New Employment
When looking for a new job, seeking and finding work that best meets your interests, needs and ambitions while using your skills can be challenging. A brain injury can change a person's abilities, greatly influencing work life. You want to be reasonable and realistic in your self-assessment and expectations. Some people with brain injuries have trouble with organization, distractibility, decision-making, impulsivity, fatigue, stamina, learning difficulties and relationships with co-workers. For many people, the general resources at the Minnesota Work Force Center may suffice. For people who have significant changes due to brain injury, applying for Vocational Rehabilitation Services (referred to as Voc Rehab or VRS) may be necessary.
Vocational Rehabilitation Services (VRS)
VRS can help analyze your skills and interests by providing a vocational evaluation consisting of testing and a series of work and task assessments. VRS works with people who have disabilities to establish employment goals, find and keep meaningful employment, and – when appropriate – identify assistive technology that can help maximize job performance.
When you call VRS, you will go through an application and intake process.
- Explain to the person who answers the phone that you have sustained a brain injury and would like to apply for services.
- Always keep track of the name of the person you spoke with and the date and time you called, each time you contact VRS.
- Ask how the application process works.
- Find out when the next orientation is for VRS services for people with disabilities.
- Ask what costs might be involved. Although many services are free, you may be asked to contribute if your financial situation allows.
Eligibility for VRS is based mostly on whether you have a physical or mental disability that makes it difficult for you to prepare for, look for, or keep work. VRS will look at reports from your doctor and consider such factors as your ability to:
- Get from one place to another
- Talk to and listen to others
- Take care of yourself
- Make and carry out plans
- Get along with others
If you qualify for VRS, you will be assigned to a counselor. Occasionally, the counselor assigned to you may not be a good match for you. You have the right to address this issue and ask to be transferred to another counselor.
If you are notified that services have been denied but you think you should be eligible, call the intake number and ask how to appeal the decision. Please do not feel that you are "complaining" or "being difficult." The appeals process is there for a reason.
Even if you are denied services, you can still use the resources available at the Minnesota Workforce Centers, such as classes and workshops or networking opportunities and job clubs.
After you have trained for, found and been successful at a job, VRS will close your case. However, you can always go back to VRS if you need help at any time. Call VRS and ask that your case be reopened should you need additional services.
Services available through VRS include:
- Vocational Rehabilitation Services counselors can work with you and your employer to help everyone understand brain injury and how the workplace may be adjusted to make accommodations to help you do your job.
- Placement services are available to eligible individuals who would like assistance establishing vocational goals, preparing for work, practicing interview skills, finding a job or making appropriate accommodations at your workplace. Placement specialists are trained to understand the current economy and employment needs. These specialists bring their expertise in disability services and knowledge of employers looking for qualified employees to the job search.
- Supported employment job coaches provide on-the-job training and support for a limited time once you secure employment. A job coach works side-by-side with you in the workplace to help you learn job responsibilities and adjust to the environment. The job coach can be supportive while you learn to understand boundaries and expectations of the work place.
- Transitional employment helps an individual build skills and endurance or to identify on-the-job accommodation needs. Usually, people in transitional employment work part-time with the assistance of the employer and/or job coach contracted through VRS. Transitional employment is for a limited period of time, generally no longer than six months.
- Assistive technology devices and services can help people with disabilities be independent and successful in the workplace. A person can use assistive technology to help him or her with communication, moving around, sitting/standing at a desk, working with computers, taking notes and many other job responsibilities.
- Extended Employment The mission of extended employment is to provide the ongoing employment support services necessary to maintain and advance the employment of persons with a severe disability.
The VRS process may seem daunting. If you need assistance navigating any part of the process, please contact the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance at 612-378-2742 or 800-669-6442.
One excellent way to restore stamina and endurance and explore job skills, interests and work habits is through volunteering. Voluntary work can provide valuable experience and be extremely rewarding. Volunteering can build your resume and help you feel more connected to people while you make a significant contribution to the world around you. The Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance relies on volunteers for a wide variety of projects. Many faith-based institutions, schools and human service organizations also rely on a large pool of valuable volunteers. Try to find one of the hundreds of nonprofit organizations in Minnesota that suits your interests and abilities.
Returning to College or Participating in Adult and Community Education Services
If you are returning to college or plan to attend for the first time, call the main telephone number of the institution and ask for the office or person in charge of working with students with disabilities, often called the Disability Services Office. These offices have support staff that coordinate services and accommodations for people with disabilities.
Under the ADA, post-secondary institutions are required by law to provide any reasonable accommodation or modification necessary for students with disabilities to have equal access to educational opportunities and services as those of non-disabled students. Examples of available accommodations may include alternative format testing, note taking, priority registration or accessible housing. You will need to provide recent medical documentation of your disability in order to request reasonable accommodations. Students should expect to self-advocate for their needs with individual instructors.
Many community education programs offered through your school district have adults with disability programs. These programs offer customized enrichment and ongoing education classes. They also provide inclusion services for all community education classes. Call the adult program coordinator of community education in your district for more information.