If you see someone with a black eye, how do you think they got it?

‘I see beyond’ campaign aims to make hidden disabilities more visible

One of the  biggest issues for people returning to work following a brain injury are fatigue, loss of confidence and inability to return to the exact work that they did before their brain injury. Photograph: iStockphoto

One of the biggest issues for people returning to work following a brain injury are fatigue, loss of confidence and inability to return to the exact work that they did before their brain injury. Photograph: iStockphoto

 

What would be your first thought on meeting someone with a black eye? Most of us would think that the person had been assaulted by another person. But, there are other reasons why someone could have a black eye and one of these is self-injury during an epileptic seizure.

The I See Beyond campaign jointly run by Epilepsy Ireland (EI) and Headway, the support group for people with Acquired Brain Injury (ABI), draws attention to hidden disabilities that people have in the workplace or community.

“The campaign is about reminding people that the person standing in front of them may have a hidden illness,” says Kieran Loughran, chief executive of Headway. Hidden disabilities can also include migraine, mental health problems and multiple sclerosis.

One of the videos in I See Beyond shows a young man helping an older man out of bed. Most viewers automatically think the older man has a disability but at the end of the video, viewers are informed that it’s the younger man who is recovering from a brain injury.

Another video shows a man having a brief seizure as he opens the door of a taxi – leaving the taxi driver with the impression that he is drunk and indecisive about taking the taxi.

Advice and information

While the first phase of the campaign was keen to increase public awareness of the challenges people with hidden disabilities face on a daily basis, those working on the campaign now hope to spread the message into workplaces.

“We want to give advice and information to employers about how to recruit, manage and retain staff with hidden disabilities,” says Peter Murphy, chief executive of EI.

According to Murphy, the new Employers Disability Information service run by Chambers Ireland, IBEC and Irish Small and Medium Enterprise Association (ISME) will be of huge benefit.

Commenting on this initiative, Mark Fielding, chief executive of the ISME, said, “Irish employers are open to hiring people with disabilities and sometimes require advice on how best to accommodate the needs of the new staff member. This helpline initiative for employers, run by employers, will allow employers seek advice and will ultimately lead to an improved working environment for people with disabilities.”

Through the website CallEdi.ie and helpline 01-6762014, experts based in the ISME office will offer information and best practice advice on issues including health and safety, physical workplace adaptations and flexible working hours.

Caroline Earley is the rehabilitation officer with Headway. She says the biggest issues for people returning to work following a brain injury are fatigue, loss of confidence and inability to return to the exact work that they did before their brain injury.

“When you consider the strength of character required for someone with a brain injury to re-learn to walk, talk and do all the basics again. And then get to the point that they want to go back to work. Employers should value this determination,” says Earley.

However, she cautions against early return to work. “It’s most important that people with acquired brain injuries don’t rush back to work too soon as that can set them up for failure. It can take months after initial rehabilitation to develop insight into the areas of difficulty that remain after a brain injury.”

 A workplace buddy system or supportive colleagues can be of huge benefit to people returning to work with hidden disabilities. Such employees will also build up their own personal supports (such as lists, reminders, memory aids) to ease themselves through the working day.

Headway runs a jobs club which offers those returning to work opportunities to write their CVs, practise interview skills and build up the stamina to return to work.

“It’s easier for large multinational companies to keep a position open than for a smaller employer. Most people will require reduced or flexible working hours,” says Loughran.

A booklet with tips on returning to work will be developed by Headway later in 2016.

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