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Pursing Educational Goals Improves the Lives of People with Spinal Cord Injury

Kessler’s Vocational Resource Facilitation program boosts participation in education and employment after spinal cord injury

By Carolann Murphy, Senior Medical Writer, Media/Communications

New research provides insights into the value of returning to education for individuals living with spinal cord injury. Conducted by a team of Kessler researchers, the published study reports the experiences of 15 participants who pursued educational goals after their injury. Man seating in a wheelchair in the middle of class

The multidisciplinary research team had two objectives. First – to investigate the barriers and facilitators to return to education and the impact that returning to education had on quality of life. Second – to examine whether early access to a Vocational Resource Facilitation (VRF) program influenced individuals with spinal cord injury to return to education.

“From our experience with inpatients at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, a Select Medical hospital, we knew that intervening early with VRF helped people return to work after spinal cord injury,” said John O’Neill, PhD, director of the Center for Employment and Disability at Kessler Foundation and a co-author of the article. “We wanted to see whether there was a similar benefit on returning to school,” he added.

The team found that the major barriers were physical and mental health challenges, transportation difficulties, and financial constraints. Factors associated with successful return to education included support from family and friends, financial aid, organizational and policy support, and participation in the VRF program during inpatient rehabilitation.

Most importantly, individuals who participated in the VRF program who successfully resumed their education reported significantly better quality of life, less depression, and greater likelihood of employment compared to those who did not pursue further education.

These findings have important implications for individuals recovering from spinal cord injury, according to Dr. O’Neill. “Now we know that returning to education, as well as employment, can improve the lives of people with spinal cord injury,” he affirmed. “Intervening early after injury to provide comprehensive vocational services is an effective way to help individuals achieve their educational and career goals.”

The article, titled, “Benefits and barriers to return to education and relationship to quality of life for people living with spinal cord injury: Results of a mixed methods study “(DOI: 10.1080/10790268.2023.2294520) was published by the Journal of Spinal Cord Medicine on January 19, 2024.

Full article: Benefits and barriers to return to education and relationship to quality of life for people living with spinal cord injury: Results of a mixed methods study (

Funding for this research was provided by Craig H. Neilsen Foundation, the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR, 90S15026), and the New Jersey Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.