I've made it very clear that I have come to detest the term “disabled.” It is, as a term, a vehicle of economic and societal construct; a label that is applied to individuals announcing to the rest of society that a person is no longer capable of normal living. It is negative by its very nature, and for some who are the recipient of that designation, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. No, I do not like the term, and I like it even less now that it has been applied to me – even at a superficial level.
As regular readers know, five weeks ago I underwent a total knee replacement procedure. One of the recommendations from the surgeon's office is that the patient undergoing such surgery may obtain a temporary parking tag that would allow them to use handicapped parking spaces when out on their errands. Out of an abundance of caution, I submitted the paperwork to my local DMV and received the hangtag for use in my vehicle. I have to admit to experiencing a slight pause when I was handed my tag, and it read “Temporary Disabled Persons Parking Identification Permit.”
Disabled? Me? Not by a long shot, pal.
The reality is my recovery is going very well. I consider myself anything but “disabled.” I am walking well without any assistive devices, am exceeding anticipated results in physical therapy, and expect life to return to normal fairly soon (until the other knee is done later this summer, that is). And, perhaps most importantly, I have rarely used my “Temporary Disabled Persons Parking Identification Permit.” I may have a temporary impairment, but the decision to be disabled is one I have declined to make. Leave those special parking spaces for people who need them.
I certainly recognize that a knee replacement is a far cry from some of the physical challenges some people experience after a serious workplace injury. Still, the ultimate outcome is largely dependent on how a person responds mentally to their specific situation. People with impairment can live a life of “challenged ability” or one of stifling disability. The choice is ultimately theirs.
In my situation, I learned years ago that doing the assigned exercises after knee replacement surgery was key to recovering properly. My mother had both knees replaced, and she was fully dedicated to following the prescribed regimen for recovery. Physical therapists will tell you that there is a relatively short window following these procedures, and people who fail to take advantage of the therapies recommended will not see the results they otherwise should. Taking ownership of my condition has been critical to my ultimate recuperation.
This is an issue that continually challenges the workers' compensation industry. We know the process of managing a claim; paying benefits and providing medical care, but we lack in the arena of motivation and influence needed to prevent a workplace caused impairment from becoming a life-ending work disability. The injured worker is the only one who can make that final determination. We need to be better at guiding and supporting them in that effort.
As for me, I have a temporary impairment. A temporary disability? No way. I don't care what the DMV says.
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Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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