Guest Author - Monica J. Foster
Even if you are dealing with manual dexterity issues from, say, cerebral palsy, arthritis or some other physical impairment, you can still work and lead an active life. Manual dexterity issues can present many challenges, but creative thinking, seeking support from peers and service providers equipped to help you and willingness to adapt are important to making a successful employment or school transition.
First of all, consider the cause of your manual dexterity challenges. Is it temporary or permanent? Is it something that is ongoing or does it flair up at certain times? If you currently work, you may want to consider speaking with your employer and team members to adjust your work responsibilities. Be open and honest about the challenges. Hiding your obstacles does more harm to you and your co-workers than helps. Tackle the challenges as soon as you become aware of them and be willing to problem solve.
Do you type a lot? Do you pack boxes, put together small parts or lift objects with your hands and arms? Consider ways you could adapt if you had difficulty grasping, typing, answering a phone or lifting. You could use a headset to answer phones, voice-controlled software to type reports and work at a computer. There are wrist and arm splints available to make it easier to grip pens and pencils, or even wand-shaped implements to press buttons. Itís up to you and your employer or job counselor how best to handle these barriers. Talk to a vocational counselor and occupational therapist about your issues.
Brainstorm with them about how to strengthen your arms and wrists, minimize pain and pressure, or a combination of things. Every person is different. No two people with arthritis, Parkinsonís disease or cerebral palsy are alike, but it helps to seek out your peers to see how they are working around their manual dexterity concerns.
You may need to consider retraining if you are currently in a job with little to no flexibility in changing your job duties. What do you love to do? You could turn a long loved hobby into a source of income. You may find that you can start your own business, work from home and your own hours based on your ability and stamina. Keep your options open. Be positive and never let pain or certain tasks you find difficult get you down. There is always a way to accomplish things.
Give yourself more time in the morning to dress for work or school. There are gadgets that an occupational therapist, state-run assistive technology programs, or medical supply stores can suggest to help you put on your shoes, lace them, button a blouse or zip your pants better. There are cups and utensils that can accommodate manual dexterity challenges as well so you can grip, prepare meals and feed yourself more independently. Getting your routine down at home will vastly increase your ability to adapt to another routine at work or school.
Consider a recorder for taking meeting notes or lecture notes. Visit your jobís human resources office or campus disability services about accommodations that can be made to better help you excel at your job or in class. If you are not currently employed, go on informational interviews and discuss your assets and abilities, brainstorm how certain challenges with manual dexterity could be overcome and worked out. Be open and a resource for employers whether you are looking for a job now or not.
Look into support groups in your area. Your peers who also have manual dexterity issues related to similar disabilities will be your best resource for finding work and educational opportunities that work for you and your skills. There are many professionals out there leading successful careers with manual dexterity challenges. Ask them what they do and how they handle their good and bad days at work or at school.
Many call centers use headsets, so minimal hand and finger use, as well as the use of voice recognition software at a computer, could be the perfect way to get you into hotline, customer service or tech support work. Consider an ergonomic, curved keyboard if you have carpal tunnel. The curved keyboard, paired with wrist rests and better posture in a quality office chair, could be just whatís needed to help minimize hand and wrist strain as you work at your desk. And many of these items are low cost or already available in the office supply room, waiting for you to ask for them. Check with your supervisor and human resources if you need them. Better to ask and know your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act rather than suffer in silence and allow your job performance and your employment status to go down the drain.
If you work at a manual labor job, consider another department taking orders, customer service calls, sorting and tracking inventory. Work with what you are able to do rather than lament what you cannot do. Be honest with supervisors or potential employers. Be willing to try a job you arenít sure about as long as it doesnít cause your body a major hardship.
Do you put small parts together on an assembly line? Consider the possibility of working in a quality assurance position that isnít so directly exposed to the manual labor of assemblage. You may just open yourself to the possibility of a different department, lateral change in position or promotion if you work with your employer and keep an open mind.
If the current job responsibilities you have are impossible to adapt to your challenges, seek counseling and peer support. Grieving is healthy and normal. You are used to a particular way of life and it is about to change. Vocational services and occupational therapy, as well as a career counselor on a college campus may be able to help you brainstorm your other strengths and abilities and tap into another course of study thatís right for you. Itís never too late to begin again and old dogs, as they say, can learn new tricks. Be open, flexible, willing to adapt and passionate about succeeding come what may. Manual dexterity issues, regardless of the reason, donít have to be the end of your life or career.
Talk with your doctor to know what to expect if your condition has the potential to become more debilitating. Know what to expect, what pain youíll be in, what medications youíll be on and their symptoms. Understand what could aggravate your condition and what will minimize its effects. Will you need surgery to correct anything at some point? Find that out. Ask about the down time and figure out how to adapt and what services are available for in-home care, transportation and such when you need them. Do your homework. You, your family and your professional and school contacts will be glad you did to make the transition easier.
Manual dexterity issues donít have to limit what you can do or hamper your employment and educational success. Conditions that impact your ability to use your hands can broaden your awareness of other abilities and talents, trigger your problem-solving tactics and help you to adapt and work better under pressure than you ever have before. And who knows? The solutions you come up with just may inspire someone else who is dealing with the same thing.