The legal framework strongly influences the life of a person with a SCI. The case of Ben shows the importance to address legal issues during rehabilitation programs not only to receive all the social security benefits but also to empower persons with specific needs to take over the responsibility to ensure her or his rights as a person with disability.

Taking into account that almost every single intervention is mirrored by the law it is necessary to provide a patient not only with legal support but also with legal insights. A study found that unmet needs in terms of “legal rights and advocacy” are one of the biggest and most frequently reported problems14. The complexity of a legal system and the related challenges for a person with SCI to navigate that system, shows the necessity to inform patients about their legal rights and services, tools and procedures how to enforce them. A standard education would contribute to empower an individual to act as an autonomous person who does not feel subjected to the social security system.

Resources like social workers (see case 18 - social service support in SCI rehabilitation), rehabilitation counselors and peers are helpful to facilitate the transition back into the community for a newly injured person14. Since health professionals cannot understand all of the issues that a person with SCI faces after an injury, the most powerful support can only come from someone who faced the same experience as it was shown in Ben’s case. While Ben received essential information from other patients in the rehabilitation center on a informal base, peer-to-peer mentor programs can ensure that essential information is provided in an standardized manner empower persons with SCI. Such a program could contain information on understanding and using self-advocacy and transferring knowledge on employment and social security rights and other related areas of rights and eligibility criteria from peer to peer.

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Transfer of knowledge from peer to peer

As most people with SCI face challenges towards community integration once they are discharged, Centers for Independent Livingalsoplay a crucial role in providing the individuals with special services and resources such as peer mentoring and role modeling, general knowledge about access to transportation, accessible housing, attendant care personnel and independent living, advocacy and other community resources. Forchheimers’ study highlights the importance of advocacy services such as assistance related to the legal system and insurance benefits. On the other hand, if interventions are too intense the client may develop a sense of dependence, looking to the coordinator to “solve” their problems1. This is another argument why education and empowerment of persons with SCI in terms of their legal rights are crucial, because this knowledge will avoid dependence.

To summarize, in providing knowledge about the legal system and the law which should be included in a structured manner during rehabilitation programs, the person with the disability could be actively involved in legal issues arising in his case and would be prepared to take over responsibility for his own legal affairs at time of discharge from the rehabilitation centre. Eventually, the patient would be legally empowered which results in a sufficient high confidence that if a problem appears, there are legal solutions, and he can use them to solve the problem.