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Accommodating Workers with Brain Injuries

The Employment Standard under the AODA requires employers to accommodate workers with disabilities.  This article will specifically look at accommodating workers with brain injuries and outline the kinds of accommodations workers might need.

What are Brain Injuries?

People with brain injuries have experienced a disease, accident, or trauma that has changed the way their brains function. The kind or degree of change people experience depends on how they have been injured. It also depends on which parts of the brain the injury has affected. Some people may regain part of the brain functioning they have lost, while others may not.

Brain injuries can affect many abilities, such as:

  • Mobility
  • Information processing, such as understanding textual or visual information
  • Speech
  • Focus
  • Memory, organization, and time management
  • Behavioural regulation and stress management

Accommodating Workers with Brain Injuries

Workers will explain what they require based on their injuries and needs. Below we outline what some of these needs are and what accommodations can help.

Mobility

To assist workers who have limited mobility, workplaces may need to have accessible features, such as:

  • Accessible parking spaces
  • Level or ramped entrances
  • Automatic doors
  • Accessible washrooms
  • Accessible routes to lunch and break rooms
  • A desk or supplies at heights workers can reach

Information processing

Textual information

Workers may read in a large font or use technology that magnifies text. On the other hand, workers may read Braille instead of print. They may also use computer programs called screen readers to hear text-based information.

If workers have difficulty processing written information, they may process information in other ways, such as:

  • Use dictation software
  • Type instead of handwriting
  • Record verbal instructions
  • Listen to information given in-person or by phone instead of by email
  • read diagrams or charts instead of large blocks of text.

Visual Information

If workers are best able to retain visual information, colleagues can provide information in a few different ways, such as:

  • In writing
  • Sending brief emails after conversations
  • Demonstrating tasks

Workers may take notes or repeat verbal information to confirm that they understand it. In addition, if workers have trouble comprehending subtext, colleagues can reduce misunderstandings by being clear and specific. Moreover, workers may ask whether their interpretation of a given situation is correct.

Speech impairment

Co-workers speaking to workers with speech impairments should:

  • Talk in a quiet space
  • Speak naturally
  • Not complete the worker’s sentences
  • Focus on what the worker is saying, not how the worker is saying it
  • Be patient

Focus

Some people work best in enclosed spaces without distractions or clutter, permanently or for part of the day. While some workers may use noise-canceling headsets, listen to calming music or sounds, others may prefer to set up their workstations away from high-traffic areas or loud devices.

Furthermore, workers may benefit from changing their work schedule or location, such as:

  • Having flexible schedules
  • Working from home
  • Taking longer breaks
  • Doing only essential parts of their jobs

Workers may also request not to be disturbed during times of intensive focus, break down large projects into smaller tasks, or exchange certain job tasks with coworkers.

Memory, organization, and time management

Workers may need clear written expectations of responsibilities and consequences.

Others may keep track of information using different methods, such as:

  • Recordings
  • Charts or pictures detailing how to solve problems
  • Colour-coding
  • Checklists
  • Timers

To help workers remember discussions at meetings or any type of training, they may request written minutes or make audio recordings. They may also request reminders of deadlines.  Additionally, workers may meet often with a supervisor to ask questions, set job goals, and determine whether they are being achieved.

Behavioural Regulation and Stress Management

Workers with brain injuries often have training in which they learn tools to maintain and regulate emotions or behaviours impacted by changes in brain function. For instance:

  • Responsibility
  • Respect for colleagues
  • Self-awareness
  • Personal and social boundaries
  • Safety

Supervisors, colleagues, and workers can create a system to make the worker aware of inappropriate actions or mannerisms in the workplace.

Workers may also have certain ways of de-stressing or calming themselves down. For instance, workers may:

  • Use flex-time
  • Call a doctor or support person
  • Reduce physical exertion
  • Step away from frustrating situations

Furthermore, workers and colleagues should develop strategies for dealing with conflict before it happens. Moreover, when workplaces are introducing changes in environments or supervisors, colleagues should communicate with workers to ensure smooth transitions or arrange any new accommodations.

Finally, open communication and positive reinforcement are important for workers with brain injuries and for all workers. Employers happy to accommodate will create a positive and inclusive atmosphere for everyone.