Price Hancock is a certified rehabilitation counselor and author of “Daring to Dream: Essential Tools to Find Employment.” She is the co-founder and trustee of the Ionic Injury Foundation, supporting people living with a history of electrical injury. She lives in La Mesa.

We live in a disposable society. Landfills hold mountains of discarded materials because as a society, we don’t seek ways for them to continue working. A table with a broken leg? Why fix it when it’s easily replaced? A comb with a missing tooth? It functions, but it’s not perfect. Pitch it.

I am beyond grateful my graduate program didn’t consider me a disposable object. Back then, I was misdiagnosed with a mental illness after a bad reaction to prescribed medication. When my medication didn’t work, I endured 116 “shock treatments.” I have 36 years of amnesia. I struggle speaking, swallowing and walking. But I can think! My experiences are valuable! I became a certified rehabilitation counselor to guide and advocate for people like me, whose bodies and brains might work differently, causing undue employer concerns.

Certified rehabilitation counselors are a rare breed. We see the world through a strength-based lens, not hyper-focused on deficits. We are certified by the only organization authorized and accredited to do so, the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification. The profession began more than a century ago to rehabilitate our nation’s veterans returning from World War I. The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification has formally certified rehabilitation counselors for 50 years. Not only do we assist clients with disabilities in their journey to become as self-sufficient as possible, we also advocate on their behalf wherever they live, learn and work. We act as intermediaries with a society accustomed to treating humans as disposable objects.

People with disabilities are everywhere. One in four Americans have some form of disability, resulting in under-employment or unemployment. The federal Department of Labor says the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is nearly twice as high than those without a disability. They are also more likely to be hired part-time than full-time.

Recently the Boston Consulting Group published a report describing employers’ naivete over how many of their own employees have disabilities, in part because employees hesitate to self-identify to risk job security and/or promotion opportunities. As a result, people with disabilities are less likely to feel invested in their workplace. Employers miss out on all the real world experience their own employees can offer.

The report recommended three things employers can do to tap into employee potential (not just for employees identified with a disability):

  • Adopt employee-focused policies for everyone (i.e., flexible work schedules or hybrid work arrangements).
  • Provide mentorships to foster an inclusive sense of belonging among employees.
  • Offer reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities to allow them to work to their full potential.

These recommendations increase the likelihood that employees living with disabilities will speak up, seek help, increase productivity and become loyal, enthusiastic company employees.
I was, however, surprised this report did not suggest companies work with a certified rehabilitation counselor. Boeing is a perfect example of how a company can maximize its employees’ training and experience — regardless of disability. The company understands the value of its investment in well-trained employees. When an employee develops a chronic illness or an acquired disability, Boeing’s certified rehabilitation counselors mediate and collaborate with the employer by focusing on the employee’s strengths. This helps employers maximize their investment in an employee’s skills, education and experience.

Repurposing society’s discarded objects breathes new life and new purpose into them. Providing people with disabilities access to certified rehabilitation counselors empowers people discarded by society to thrive, fulfilling work duties in resourceful and creative ways. I am the evidence.

After spending more than a decade stuck in institutional settings with a psychiatric diagnosis, I met my first certified rehabilitation counselor. She suggested that though I lived with what doctors assumed was “treatment-resistant mental illness” and the amnesic consequences of electroconvulsive therapy, I had skills yet untapped. She encouraged me to explore employment opportunities congruent with my passion to help people break barriers to achieving their fullest potential. I enrolled in San Diego State’s Rehabilitation Counseling master’s program, but I lived with profound acquired disabilities, a consequence of electroconvulsive therapy’s brain injury. No longer able to read, write or remember as I had before brain injury proved challenging. In any other graduate program, I would have failed. But I was surrounded by faculty trained as certified rehabilitation counselors teaching students to become certified rehabilitation counselors.

I went from a perceived discarded social pariah to a respected, internationally recognized researcher. I became a living, breathing embodiment of the phrase “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

As a certified rehabilitation counselor, my goal is enabling people to embrace employment dreams. When I help my client with a disability, the employer gains a productive, skilled worker and the employee begins their journey to achieve their fullest potential — everyone wins.

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