Friday, May 9, 2008

Heroes Include Wolfgang and My Brother

WILLIE NELSON once warbled that his heroes have always been cowboys. However, mine include a man who uses two canes and the other happens to be my kid brother.
Both Wolfgang Zimmermann and Dr. Garry Corbett are dedicated to improving the plight of disabled workers throughout Canada and around the globe and both log countless thousands of air miles in their quest.
Take, for instance, when I contacted Zimmermann, the executive director of the National Institute of Disability Management and Research (NIDMAR) in Victoria, he was about to board a plane to once again promote "the values of disability management."
Meanwhile, my kid brother, if you can call someone in his mid-50s a kid, had just returned from a number of trips to New Zealand and Australia, giving lectures concerning the disabled and their return to the workforce.
When I tracked down Zimmermann's background, it was one worthy of a documentary or two. In fact, there have been a couple including 'Every Twelve Seconds' (which dealt with the personal and financial costs of industrial injuries) and a CBC Journal/National news documentary called 'Insult to Injury.'
Zimmermann knows about disability first hand.
Born in Dortmund, Germany and trained as a landscape gardening engineer, he arrived in Canada at age 19 in the mid-1970s and began working for MacMillan Bloedel's Sproat Lake division as a member of the brushing crew. However, after only five days into the job, tragedy struck and it changed his life, forever.
In brief a tree fell on him, breaking his back severely and with his spinal cord damaged he spent years in a wheelchair and on crutches. He now uses those canes.
Zimmermann proved to be no quitter and some 30 years later has become "the spiritual father and driving force behind provisions for the international "disability management" initiative in countries throughout the world," according to a news blurb.
The energetic Zimmermann has certainly impressed his colleagues, including my brother, the one-time president of CARP (Canadian Association of Rehabiliation Professionals), which has changed its name to VRAC (Vocational Rehabiliation Association of Canada).
"I have had the privilege of knowing Wolfgang for approximately 10 years in a variety of capacities, and am constantly impressed with his strength of conviction, tenacity and compassion for workers, who have experienced a disability," said Dr. Corbett.
"Over the years I have watched as he has tirelessly crisscrossed Canada and traveled countless miles throughout the world promoting the values of disability management. During that time he has been able to bring together business, union and government leadership from a multitude of countries into a coalition of individuals that work for the betterment of not only injured/ill workers but society as a whole."
Dr. Corbett also pointed out "the costs related to disabilities in the workplace can be staggering," and then he listed them:
* Lost wages, concurrent and future, not replaced through benefits;
* Medical expenses not compensated through compensation systems or other insurance;
* Time and resources expended by disabled worker's household in nursing and recuperation;
* Lost household production;
* Productivity of disabled worker no longer available to society;
* Increase in mental health problems;
* Earlier death rate; and spouses of unemployed workers experience increased emotional problems.
"One of the keys to Wolfgang's success is that by using an effective disability management model everyone wins," Dr. Corbett emphasized, adding, "For the employee there is a significant cost savings, they are able to keep the experience and expertise of skilled workers and increase their competitive standing within the world market.
"For unions they are able to provided needed services to their members and maintain them in a productive environment. And for society, we not only retain a productive (and tax paying) citizen, but there is a significant reduction in the use of the health care and medical systems."
In conclusion, Dr. Corbett stated, "British Columbia and Canada can be proud of being one of the major driving forces of Disability Management movement throughout the world. What started as a dream for Wolfgang and NIDMAR only a few short years ago is now a model that is used throughout the world. He has been able to clearly demonstrate that "doing the right thing" is not only ethical but financially sound for all involved."
For their work in the disability management field, both Wolfgang Zimmermann and my brother deserve to be called heroes.


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