Returning to work after a spinal cord injury can be a long and daunting process. When she was two years post-injury, prior W2W grantee Jen Chaillie returned to work as a therapist specializing in treating children who have been victims of abuse.
In February of 2013, Jen began the process of returning to work by applying for vocational rehab services through the Arizona Department of Economic Security. She was assigned a case manager and then had evaluations for equipment and other items she would need in order to return to work.
One challenge Jen encountered was finding the right equipment needed to perform her job, which includes getting down on the floor to be on the same level as the children she treats. She discovered that a seat lift that takes someone to the ground and then back up to wheelchair height to transfer back into his or her chair does not exist. Thankfully, she was able to find a platform lift company, RDM Industrial Products, which was willing to work with her in customizing her lift.
“I realized early on that I just needed to be patient as it took time getting equipment approved, ordered, and received,” recalls Jen. “Thankfully, I am still able to do everything I used to do at work prior to my injury with some adaptations, of course.”
Although Jen’s overall energy and endurance is not the same post-injury, she credits staying physically active during those first two years for significantly improving her strength. After receiving a handcycle via a Will2Walk Life Enhancement Grant in 2012, Jen has participated in numerous cycling events including El Tour de Tucson 10-mile, Arizona Disabled Sports 10K, Girls Run 5K, and Color Run 5K. She estimates she has ridden more than 1,000 miles in the last year, with her average ride being 16 miles.
“Staying active has definitely increased my physical endurance in sports, transferring to/from my chair, and even my ability to roll around in my wheelchair without getting tired and having to take breaks,” notes Jen. “I thought I would need to maintain my part-time work schedule longer, but I adapted so well to being back that I increased my hours within two months of returning.”
Jen advises those preparing to return to work to believe in themselves and their ability to be successful despite being in a wheelchair. She recommends taking advantage of the resources available, be it vocational rehab or simply talking to others who have returned to work for suggestions and feedback on your ideas for your job.
“No matter what your dream job was prior to your injury, know that you should still be able to do that job—it just might be adapted in some way,” emphasizes Jen. “Be sure to take it slow when returning so you can rebuild your strength and endurance.”
To read the full story about Jen’s injury and early dedication to maintaining an active lifestyle, click here.