Vocational Rehabilitation Helps Those with TBI Find, Keep Employment

Scan of skulls

Nov. 6, 2019 – In North Carolina, nearly 79,000 people sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in 2015. Of those, more than 1,800 died, more than 7,000 were hospitalized and nearly 70,000 were treated and released from emergency departments.

TBI, an injury that can change the way your brain normally works, is caused by an external force to the head. The severity may range from mild (a brief change in mental status or consciousness) to severe (an extended period of unconsciousness or amnesia after an injury). Causes include falls, vehicular accidents and athletics injuries.

For survivors, depending on the severity of a TBI, effects can include impairments related to thinking or memory, movement, vision or hearing, and to emotional functioning that may interfere with finding or keeping a job. This is an area where DHHS’ Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (DVRS) can help.

Studies show that for those with TBI, returning to work improves their health, self-esteem and quality of life and it can be an important factor in their recovery and rehabilitation.

As a key partner in DHHS’ North Carolina State Action Plan for People with Traumatic Brain Injury, DVRS provides specialized employment-related services, such as cognitive rehabilitation, career exploration and development, and intensive job supports to TBI survivors through regional offices in Charlotte, Greenville, Raleigh and Winston-Salem.

The efforts of DVRS counselors have had great results. Just last year, more than 750 North Carolinians with TBI received vocational rehabilitation services. So far, 79 of them achieved their goals for competitive employment.

North Carolina’s Employment First initiative reflects the state's goals to be a leader in recruiting workers with disabilities – including those with TBI – and creating an inclusive job climate for workers with disabilities. While not everyone with TBI will need accommodations, employers can make a difference in the lives of those who do by allowing for open communication about limitations and needs. Here are a few tips for success:

  • Provide positive reinforcement, honest feedback and adjustments in level of supervision or structure as needed.
  • Ask what forms of communication work best for the employee and what tools (to-do lists, checklists, written instructions) will help them stay productive.
  • Try to schedule regular “check-in” meetings with the employee to discuss workplace issues and productivity.
  • Be patient. If someone is having trouble getting across their point, give them ample time to think about it and respond.
  • Provide a quiet space to work, apps for concentration, and assistive technology upon request for accommodation.

For more information about accommodating employees with TBI, check out these resources or contact DVRS to speak with a subject matter expert.