At the California Coalition of Workers' Compensation Conference in Anaheim a couple of weeks back, one of the presenters made a comment that resonated with me. The topic was related to innovative claims management practices and had shifted to discussions of return to work and the role of physicians. One of the panelists made an emphatic point of being tired of being given a list of restrictions related to the injured workers in their care. They said, “Why can't the doctor tell us what a worker is capable of doing, instead of what they cannot do?”
It was a great point and reflects a bigger problem within the workers' compensation industry. The very nature of our work forces us to view negative connotations and conditions. As a result, we spend a great deal of time focusing on the “can not's” rather than the “still can.” Our culture has evolved to focus on disability rather than ability. The comment regarding physician restrictions could not have been a more distinct example of that reality.
This blog contains numerous discussions on the topic of disability. I've personally come to detest the term, at least in the manner in which it is used. I made my case against it back in 2019, in a post titled “What is Disability, Really?,” when I wrote:
It is no secret that I have grown to detest the word “disability.” It is unfortunately for many a self-fulfilling prophecy. We take people with a level of physical or mental impairment, and we declare them disabled. In so doing we condemn some of them to a future defined by restrictions and limitations. We categorize them by what they can no longer do and ignore the abilities they may still possess.
For some injured workers, it becomes an integral part of their narrative in a larger story of general victimization. The sad thing is they are right. Our system assigned them that designation and role. They are disabled because we told them they were.
The term “Dis” has nothing but negative connotations. As a verb, it means “To show disrespect to, often by insult or criticism” or “to treat in a disrespectful manner; to insult, disparage or belittle.” Appended to any word, it immediately implies a deleterious nature. Disability, disable, disavow, dismiss, disreputable, disgraceful, dissatisfaction, and the list goes on.
The workers' compensation industry today concentrates on what can no longer be, when the message we should be conveying is that, for many, life is still possible. An impairment does not have to be a disability. A permanent injury may mean that the worker must change the way they do things, but we should not automatically define them as no longer capable of such ability. We still today often focus on the negative. The comment related to physician's restrictions highlighted that tendency very clearly.
We can change our culture and shift our attitude. We are awakening to the reality that there is a better way forward, where treating the “whole person” and focusing on abilities can produce better outcomes for all stakeholders. In doing so, we can put the “dis” culture behind us once and for all.
Our failure to do so would be disappointing and distasteful, and will continue to leave too many souls disheartened, discombobulated, disenfranchised, discontented, and disenchanted.
Trust me. If we do this right, we will never miss the “dis.”
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.
Bob has a couple unique personality characteristics. He firmly believes that everyone has the right to his (Bob's) opinion, and while he may not always be right, he is never in doubt. Enter at your own risk, and like all of our blog areas, we encourage you to read the disclaimer at the bottom of the page.
We're not responsible for this guy.....
Bob is an accomplished speaker for the workers' compensation industry. He is available for conferences, corporate events, children's birthday parties and Bar Mitzvahs. You may access his Speakers Brief here.