Therapists with Disabilities
In this week's issue of ADVANCE for Physical Therapy & Rehab Medicine, Brian W. Ferrie wrote an inspiring article about a police officer who was shot in the head on duty, then later returned to school to become a physical therapist assistant. If you haven't read the full article yet, I highly recommend you do. It's a good reminder of the experiences we go through that motivate us to become part of the physical therapy profession.
The article elicits many debates about therapists working with their own handicaps. The ex-police officer had a bullet weave through four regions of his brain and although many areas healed, he was still left with a permanent vision deficit. While his personal story is quite inspirational, what would have happened if he had residual brain damage? Is it possible to practice physical therapy in those circumstances?
A few weeks ago, I injured my shoulder during a treatment session and was on light duty for two days as I was unable to complete my job with my injury. Had I worked in a setting other than acute care, I might have been able to continue working. Even in outpatient settings, therapists can accumulate multiple overuse injuries, like those associated with performing manual therapy techniques. But, working with an acute musculoskeletal injury is different from a chronic disability such as brain damage.
My fiance spends most of his day at work looking at a computer screen. Just last week, he renewed his health benefits and included more disability coverage than he had the previous year. He told me, "If for some reason I ever became blind, there is no way I could do my job." I understand what he meant. If I ever lost my vision, it would make my job incredibly difficult. Instead of observing posture, I would need to use my hands to feel a patient's presentation. Instead of watching for nonverbal behaviors during a session, I would need to ask my patients more questions about their tolerance to an intervention. I can't imagine completing a chart review or documenting a session if I wasn't able to see.
Now, I certainly don't have the Americans with Disabilities Act memorized, but my understanding is that accommodations could be made in most circumstances to allow employees to continue working in their field. I would hope so. I love my job and would want to keep working as a therapist regardless of any disabilities I may have in the future.