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"There are not only the physical adjustments to contend with, but also any cognitive changes to consider."
- Rebecca Schmidt-Lachlan, Young survivor of stroke

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“Look for an employer where your abilities are going to be celebrated and supported.”

Show transcript

Returning to the Workforce – A New Path

Written by Rebecca Schmidt-Lachlan, Altered Abilities

There may be a time during our working lives when we have an injury which needs a return-to-work plan. This is even more challenging after a life changing trauma such as a stroke. There are not only the physical adjustments to contend with, but also any cognitive changes to consider. This can present massive challenges accepting differences in function that have arisen after stroke. Depression can set in, grieving for what has been lost, and rightly so. A major loss has occurred and navigating the new way through an altered path other than that previously anticipated is downright scary. Choosing the time to return to the workforce is ultimately up to you: when you feel ready to return to work and when you are comfortable with the modifications you need.

The workplace has become a lot more aware of the differences in people and various aids are available for workstations to make working easier. Voice recognition software is often used to compensate for typing, and desk height is adjustable to accommodate specific needs. Holding out for the right work environment is essential to ensure you are in a comfortable and supportive atmosphere. The obstacles are already likely to be a little stacked against you in the beginning, as you navigate your way through returning to a previous position or starting a whole new role. There is another option: create something of your own using the unique story that is yours alone and develop this into a source of income.  

Workplace changes may be quite significant, or they may be only minor. There will always be some challenges and adaptations to undertaking the same tasks using a new method. Therefore, the people working around you are vitally important. Making sure they are not imposing unattainable or unreasonable goals beyond your capacity is pivotal to how successful returning to work will be. It will be beneficial for your confidence to be surrounded by people with a compassionate and empathetic attitude. Mistakes are bound to occur as you find your groove. An understanding atmosphere will allow your talents to shine. I hear you saying: “Great in theory but I need to pay my bills!” This has been an observation of mine over the last 14 years and you can choose any path that achieves your desired outcome.

Completing my studies after stroke

In this podcast episode Beth Browning, who had a stroke when she was 19 years old, talks about how after her stroke she has gone on to complete her studies in Nursing and has just begun her first role in the industry.

Beth chats about how she accomplished all this whilst dealing with post stroke symptoms such as fatigue and navigating the associated changes to her social life that an event like a stroke brings.

Listen to podcast with transcript

My work thought I'd be alright, but I wasn't

Shannon Nelson went back to work four months and three weeks after her stroke. She talks about her experience, how her workplace and colleagues treated her and what advice she would give to someone wanting to return to work.

Shannon says "In a perfect world, it should have been compulsory. But who's got time? ... I don't know whether there was a meeting before, with the staff to say about me ... But I think there should have been a team meeting with me to say what my deficits are and that sort of thing and then I get really tired. But that wasn't suggested either."

Useful links

  • Work (EnableMe website) 
    Returning to work is an important goal for most people who were working before their stroke. What this looks like, the pathway and eventual destination, is different for everyone. This list includes resources about work, including videos, factsheets, podcasts and more.
  • Stroke in your 20s and 30s podcast (EnableMe website)
    This podcast episode talks about what it's like to have a stroke in your 20s and 30s, and to have to set a new path towards goals like a career and relationships. And to deal with invisible stroke impacts while trying not to become invisible yourself.

Where to get help