Changing the way we see disability

December 12th, 2007 by Julie Ferguson

For a seasonal heart warmer, you can’t do much better than the creative animated ad campaign entitled Creature Discomforts (video, sound alert) that is running on BBC. The ads are sponsored by Leonard Cheshire Disability to raise awareness for and change attitudes towards disability. The theme cues off a popular BBC series, Creature Comforts.
As is often the case, the story behind the story is also interesting. The voiceovers for each of the animated characters in the spots are actual disabled persons. Flash the Sausage Dog is a man named Alex who has been disabled for 25 years since an on-the-job fall that damaged his spine. You can get a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse (part 2) of the making of these spots and learn more about the participants.
In workers comp, we spend a lot of time trying to prevent disability. We also focus a lot of effort on recovery and return to work programs, with a focus on “ability” rather than “disability.” It wasn’t always this way. Years ago, most employers refused to take someone back to work until they were fully recovered – even when the person was willing and could do most of the job without any problems. Early return to work was a difficult concept to sell to many employers, who were often reluctant to make temporary accommodations to ease a person back to work. Yet without an active recovery, depression and disability syndrome can often occur. For most people, income, identity and feelings of self-worth are tied to work and productivity. Today, most employers understand that helping injured workers get back to their normal lives, including work, is an important part of recovery. This is true whether an injury or illness occurs on the job or off.
To ensure success for a stay-at-work or return-to-work program, it can be helpful to get buy in from all employees. This is often best done by explaining the organization’s philosophy and policies in an orientation program or as part of other human resource communications rather than as a reactive measure when the need arises. Co-workers need to understand the importance of their support and the role they play in helping recovering and disabled colleagues in the workplace. The Creature Discomfort campaign might be useful tools to open talks or discussions about attitudes and practices related to disability.