Overcoming Stigmas and Biases: Fostering Inclusive Employment for Burn Survivors

Disability inclusion can be overlooked when workplaces look to foster a diverse, inclusive, and welcoming environment for employees. Even when it is considered, employers can do more than simply include people with disabilities. According to an article about disability inclusion by BetterUp, “True disability inclusion goes further than meeting a quota. It means intentionally creating a workplace where people feel welcome and comfortable, and where they are seen, valued, and appreciated for what they bring to the table.” 

This article will explore inclusive employment strategies that support burn survivors, and highlight how disability inclusion is a net benefit for business as a whole, not just for employees with disabilities. 

From Injury to the Workplace: The Challenges Faced by Burn Survivors at Work

Burn injury is a traumatic еxpеriеncе that can lеavе lasting scars physically,  mеntally,  and еmotionally.  Whеn survivors of burn injuriеs rеturn to thе workforcе,  thеy can facе a widе rangе of challеngеs.  Burn injuriеs can havе a significant impact on a survivor’s ovеrall wеll-bеing.  Survivors of burn injuriеs may еxpеriеncе chronic pain,  scarring,  continuеd wound carе,  tеmpеraturе intolеrancе,  loss of strеngth and stamina,  slееp problеms,  and mobility limitations.  Additionally,  survivors might еxpеriеncе anxiеty,  dеprеssion,  and post-traumatic strеss disordеr (PTSD). 

Returning to work is often seen as an important recovery milestone for burn injury survivors. Work can provide a sense of purpose and normalcy, as well as the return of regular income. Burn survivors can accrue considerable medical expenses as they recover, for example, treatments including reconstructive surgery and ongoing physical therapy. This makes a return to work even more important. However, burn survivors can face challenges in the workforce that may make integration challenging. 

Burn survivors may have limited access to vocational rehabilitation and employment support services, making it difficult to find suitable employment in the first place, especially if their former employer is no longer a viable option after their burn injury. 

When starting work with a new employer, or returning to previous employment, one of the challenges facing burn survivors is the lack of awareness and understanding among co-workers and employers. Burn survivors may face overt or covert discrimination and stigmatization, difficulting to feel comfortable and valued in the workplace. For example, co-workers may disregard boundaries by asking probing questions about the burn injury, or make insensitive comments about “extra time off” the survivor may receive to have their injury treated. Survivors may be on the receiving end of derogatory remarks about their appearance or abilities or excluded from workplace events or opportunities. 

Additionally, there is sometimes a stigma attached to appearance, making the return to work mentally grueling for burn survivors. Burn survivors can struggle with body dysmorphia after their injuries. This means they may have trouble looking at their reflection in the mirror, or become hyper-aware of people noticing their visible injury. Burn survivors can also experience co-workers’ feelings of jealousy regarding the “privileges” offered to accommodate someone with a burn injury such as leave days for medical care or a flexible schedule. 

Employers should aim to make their organization one that embraces inclusivity for burn injury survivors and people with other disabilities. Sensitivity training and other interventions can make workplaces safer, more welcoming, and more accommodating for all employees. Employers should embrace the idea of disability inclusion, as there are many advantages of inclusive employment that benefit everyone in the workplace as well as the company’s profitability. 

Benefits of Inclusive Employment

Inclusivе еmploymеnt practicеs arе good for thе businеss as a wholе.  It is еstimatеd that onе in four pеoplе livе with a disability.  This may include invisible disabilities and people who choose not to disclose these. This means a significant workforce could benefit from inclusive employment practices. 

In general, an inclusive workplace is a more welcoming workplace. A business that embraces inclusivity will be able to recruit from a wider pool of talented employees and potentially increase its employee retention rates. When employees feel valued and see their co-workers being recognized and valued too it makes a positive statement about the company. Additionally, when inclusive practices are implemented, employees feel less stressed and experience fewer barriers to completing their work. In turn, this can lead to greater productivity and creativity. It can also reflect well on the brand image, encouraging greater customer loyalty. 

When designing a workplace that is inclusive for burn injury survivors, there are several interventions and best practices employers can implement. 

Designing an Inclusive Workplace

  1. Inclusivity in Hiring 

Employers should be transparent in the hiring process and ensure that skills and qualifications are valued. They can also create targeted recruitment initiatives to support burn survivors in the workplace. Employers can partner with recruiting agencies that support people with burn injuries and other disabilities, reach out to state agencies, and contact disability resource centers at local universities, colleges, and schools to recruit qualified candidates with disabilities. 

  1. Reasonable Accommodations

Most employers say it costs little or nothing to accommodate people with disabilities. For burn survivors, a flexible work schedule to allow for medical appointments and therapy, and limits on physical strain are simple and effective methods of accommodation. Employers should also support those with disabilities by providing adaptive equipment as needed and modifying the uniform or dress code to address restrictive or irritating clothing.

  1. Vocational Rehabilitation Support

Employers can work with vocational rehabilitation support groups to determine whether potential jobs are suitable for burn survivors, develop plans for employment-related goals, assess skills, limitations, health needs, and personal concerns, and negotiate trial periods with potential employers to determine if the job is a proper fit. Vocational rehabilitation support is an essential part of an inclusive work environment for burn injury survivors. 

  1. Creating Awareness and Building Sensitization

Providing disability sensitivity training for employers and employees is also valuable in creating an inclusive workplace for burn survivors. This helps encourage open dialogue to mitigate misconceptions and stigma in the workplace. In addition to sensitivity training, employers can partner with burn survivor advocacy and support groups to raise general public awareness.

Throughout the world, there are many organizations and nonprofits that advocate for burn survivors’ employment. The Grossman Burn Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the Grossman Burn Centers, a pioneer in international burn treatment facilities. The foundation works to provide burn prevention outreach and seeks to collaborate with local agencies working in the public safety, education, and healthcare sectors. Their Adult Burn Survivor Support Groups encourage survivors to process their injuries to bring clarity to their survival journey. Group discussions on intimacy and relationships, jobs, and education are encouraged. Furthermore, communication techniques for injury and survival with others are strengthened and nurtured.  

Recently, the Grossman Burn Foundation partnered with Girl Power USA, a nonprofit promoting global social impact initiatives. Among Girl Power USA’s projects, Sheroes Hangout café in India offers employment to acid attack survivors. The survivors run the café with enthusiasm and rebuild their lives one step at a time. Sheroes is a symbol of hope. Through continued support, the Sheroes Hangout café reaches more people who listen to the stories of the women and patronize the business.

It is essential that the workplace is inclusive and supportive so burn survivors can not only recover but thrive in their careers. Companies should take proactive steps toward promoting and fostering inclusivity. Those who intentionally include people with disabilities, such as those with burn injuries, will reap the benefits of having qualified, capable people as part of their company. 


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