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Supporting Employees with Brain Injury in the Workplace: Part Four of the Disability Etiquette Series

A black and white headshot of David Hobson

In 2006, David Hobson experienced a brain injury that thirteen years later, has implications for him on the job. 

Hobson grew up in Nashville and while in his freshman year of college, fell onto a slab of concrete in Smoky Mountains National Park. He stayed in the hospital for three months due to damage to his left brain hemisphere. As a result of the injury, he has apraxia, a neurological disorder characterized by the inability to perform familiar movements on command, even though the command is understood and there is a willingness to perform the movement ( Hobson also experiences aphasia, which is the loss of ability to understand or express speech. 

After the accident, Hobson graduated from Nashville State Community College with an A.A.S. of Horticulture and a Computer Aided Drafting certificate. He worked at Target for a year, where he carried a notepad with him to assist him in serving customers. The notepad helped him recall the names of certain items. He then spent a number of years working in residential lawncare.
Hobson now works at a small architecture firm, where he creates drafts of houses, buildings, and churches. 

When it comes to disability etiquette and accommodations that help Hobson succeed in his job, there are many tools and tricks he uses. It can be difficult for him to communicate verbally, so he prefers receiving information in written form. He prefers when his coworkers talk at a slower rate and simplify what they’re trying to say, as well as repeating their words when necessary. 

Hobson also notes that he wishes his coworkers would try and get to know him. “People will sometimes cut me off when I’m talking or trying to explain something. Or, if I don’t understand and am confused, my coworkers can get frustrated and give up trying to communicate with me. If my coworkers took the time to get to know me and my experience with brain injury, they might be more understanding and accommodating. I hope people without disabilities will try to be more patient and learn that I can do what they can, just in a different way.”

When interacting with a fellow coworkers with a cognitive impairment, it’s important to remember these tips (taken from the Tennessee Disability Coalition’s Disability Etiquette Brochure):

•    Keep your communication simple. Use short sentences and rephrase comments or questions for better clarity. 
•    Stay on point by focusing on one topic at a time. 
•    Allow the person time to respond, ask questions, and clarify your comments. 
•    Focus on the person as he or she responds to you and pay attention to body language.
•    If appropriate, repeat back any messages to confirm mutual understanding.