It’s almost May – the month well known for great weather and flowers, graduations, and family barbeques. It’s also a month known as National Mobility Awareness Month. Did you know that? I didn’t for the longest time acknowledge or even know such a thing existed – which is odd considering the years spent working as a rehabilitation counselor for a state rehab agency. Looking back, even though we all spent countless hours of the day working with individuals with mobility challenges in their efforts to return to work or become job ready, I honestly think we likely acknowledged Administrative Professional’s Day…and maybe even Earth Day…as an office, bypassing such an incredible month that acknowledges and celebrates our clients and others.
Mobility Awareness Month draws attention and awareness nationwide to mobility challenges and obstacles faced by less than able bodied individuals. This goes beyond the typical curb cut sidewalks and ramps envisioned by most when considering mobility issues. In our field, as counselors, we have much greater exposure and understanding of physical obstacles faced by the populations we serve; however, the reality is that a collective ignorance on issues of mobility and physical disabilities still widely exists.
Rehabilitation counselors have long been recognized for their ability and training to find appropriate jobs for individuals with unique challenges. It’s not always easy. During my heyday – starting out as a rehabilitation counselor not yet wet behind the ears, I thought I had a wealth of knowledge of all issues related to physical disability and rehabilitation methods. I prided myself in being able to discuss the pros and cons of ‘beach wheelchairs’ and identify technological advances of the Hoyer lift. About six months into my first few assignments working with individuals with physical disabilities – I realized I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. All of my textbook knowledge and my internships in physical medicine and rehabilitation did little to prepare me for the overwhelming small details that needed to be considered for many.
Starting out, I relied heavily on the assistance of physical and occupational therapist recommendations. I was trigger happy with sending clients off for functional capacity evaluations to assist me in understanding the nature of what is involved in just the mobility aspect of becoming re-oriented to a job. I was a duck out of water working with an incredible woman who had lost both her shoulder and arm to cancer. Returning to her job as an administrative professional in a medical office proved to be no easy feat. What started out as an initial idea to simply add Dragon Naturally Speaking to allow her to dictate her work to eliminate the heavy typing soon lead to the question of what happens after the work is dictated – how easy will it be to maneuver from the printer, to the hole puncher, to the charts, to the filing, etc. along with the balance issues that came from the shoulder loss.
I quickly came to see that even though I had professional training, was working with an extremely talented rehabilitation team, none of knew what was best for the individual as much as the individual themselves. I had to learn to toss out my ‘book learning’ and really listen, and be guided, by the individuals with mobility issues. Every issue that popped up as a concern for the administrative professional was not one that she had not yet considered and had several ideas to propose to tackle the issue. I’m certain that I learned more from her than she learned from me.
I’m fortunate to live and practice in Philadelphia, PA – an area ripe with watchdog groups that are working to ensure all of the city’s great attractions and transportation are fitting the bill for people’s mobility needs. It’s something we always need to be aware of and supportive of. We, as counselors, are lucky to be able to work with individuals that help bring these matters to our attention. We also have incredible inspiration to fall back on when needed. Yesterday I was fretting because my bottled water spilled open inside my work bag, drenching everything from the bag itself to the bench I was sitting on waiting for my train. My grumbling was short lived when I realized I could scurry to get paper towels, mop up the mess, toss the towels, and still rush to catch my train – imagine having to do that without an extra arm and shoulder? I couldn’t. Reality check. Done.
Shannon Ruane is a counselor and Certified Rehabilitation Counselor in private practice in Philadelphia, PA. Fluent in American Sign Language & a fan and practitioner of hypnotherapy; Shannon can be found at www.ruanecounseling.com