Are People with Spinal Injuries Considered Handicapped?
Spinal injuries mean a serious lifestyle change for most, altering major life activities as well as working capabilities. Depending on the severity of the problem, people with spinal injuries may never fully recover. A spinal injury can be termed a disability under the law.
The Basics of Spinal Cord Anatomy
Many view the spinal cord as one long piece, but it’s truly a collection of nerves stacked and protected within 31 vertebrae. From there, the medical field breaks the spinal cord into separate groups.
Cervical spinal cord – the highest area of the spinal cord, connecting the brain through the neck. It includes 8 vertebrae.
Thoracic spinal cord – consisting of twelve vertebrae, this is the middle of the spinal cord.
Lumbar spinal cord – the lower back right where it just begins to curve is made up of five vertebrae.
Sacral spine – five vertebrae create this slightly tilted outward region, but there is no actual spinal cord here.
Coccygeal region – a single vertebra at the end of the spinal cord that is also called the tail bone.
Spinal Cord Injuries and Disabilities
Spinal cord injuries split into two different categories. It’s a simple categorization of the incomplete versus the complete.
Incomplete spinal cord injuries
For an incomplete injury, the spinal cord varies between slight injury to partially severed. When only partially severed, the injured individual is often still able to take part in daily life activities. The amount of ability depends on the intensity of the injury.
Complete spinal cord injuries
A complete spinal cord injury refers to the fact that the spinal cord has been fully severed, meaning that function is eliminated. In some cases, treatment and physical therapy may help the injured party regain some of the spinal cord’s function.
Common types of incomplete or partial spinal cord injuries are the following:
- Anterior cord syndrome – damages motor and sensory elements, retaining some sensation but missing some movement
- Brown-Sequard syndrome – damage only on one side of the spinal cord, meaning that one side may lose function while the other does not
- Central cord syndrome – disrupts brain signals to other parts of the body, including motor skills, arm paralysis, impairment in legs, loss of bowel or bladder control, etc.
Doctors usually label injuries based on certain criteria. For example, the worst spinal injuries are often called tetraplegia or quadriplegia, meaning that the injured individual loses all ability to move below the site of injury. Someone who suffers paraplegia lose sensation and movement from the lower half of the body while triplegia is the case of someone who has lost sensation and movement in one limb.
Lower injuries to the spinal cord below the lumbar often end with nerve pain or reduced function but can often be operated on to regain lost function. Each injury results in different problems. Therefore, no spinal injury is the same as another and must be treated uniquely.
Spinal Cord Injury Disability
Due to the nature of a spinal cord injury and the loss of major life activities, individuals with spinal cord injuries are considered to have a disability. Therefore, they are protected by Title III and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This means that employers cannot discriminate against individuals with a spinal cord injury and must offer reasonable accommodations to them.
However, if your job required certain work standards that are impossible to meet after a spinal cord injury, then ADA does not force your employer to undermine those requirements. Undue hardship must be proven by your employer. For example, a gymnast with a spinal cord injury would no longer be able to compete.
Possible Reasonable Accommodations
- Service animal
- Flexible schedule
- Accessible bathroom, etc.
- An assistant
- Modified equipment
For a severe spinal injury, social security disability benefits may be the best option for your situation. Qualifying for SSD benefits requires patience and an understanding of the process. Of course, the Social Security Administration (SSA) does have a list of injuries or disabilities that automatically qualify a person for disability benefits. If you think you might qualify for social security disability insurance, it may benefit you to work with a disability lawyer to prepare to prove your disability.
Am I Eligible to Receive Reasonable Accommodation at My Job?
If you have a spinal cord disability or even a history of this disability, you are eligible for reasonable accommodation at your job as long as it does not cause your employer undue hardship. When an employer does not take steps to provide an accommodation after your request, you may need to file a complaint in-house. If your employer still fails to provide the reasonable accommodation, reach out to a disability lawyer because he or she can guide you through the legal process.
After all, the ADA obligates employers to provide reasonable accommodations to eligible workers with disabilities. An employer who discriminates or retaliates against you for seeking your legal rights of reasonable accommodation are violating the law.
Am I Eligible to Receive SSD Benefits?
The purpose of SSD benefits is to provide for individuals with disabilities that hinder them from working full-time. Since SSD benefits are limited, the SSA does not accept every claim. Your disability must be so bad that it prevents your ability to work.
Eligibility for SSD Benefits
- Keeps you from working
- Can’t work any job
- Long term disability
- Life threatening
Naturally, there are more requirements to be eligible for SSD benefits. For example, you must have paid into the Social Security system, but if you haven’t worked long enough or recently, you may be eligible for Social Security Income benefits.
If you have a spinal injury disability and your employer fails to offer you reasonable accommodation or retaliates against you, speak to a lawyer about your legal options.