You are absolutely right. I don’t look sick, and rarely do I ever feel like I am.
I lovingly provide full-time care for my wife, Jennifer, who has secondary-progressive multiple sclerosis, and I have proven over the past 23 years that I am fully capable of holding down a 40-hour-a-week job.
In the eyes of future employers
But I recently realized that to future employers, I am considered a person who has a disability just because I have MS.
For real. Even though I can walk many miles, climb countless stairs and stay out until the bar closes, my MS apparently makes me disabled.
This became apparent last October when I was let go from a job that I had held for nearly two decades. No, my MS didn’t really have anything to do with me losing my job. But I fear it’s a potential reason that future employers are shying away from bringing me on board.
Applying for a new job
It hit me when I applied for my first new job in early November 2017 (and it repeatedly has come up in countless subsequent applications).
Here’s how everything went down: After I uploaded my carefully crafted cover letter and tightly tailored resume and then divulged other details in the dropdown questionnaire, they hit me with the “Voluntary Demographic Information” section.
“Why not?” I asked myself. So what if I tell them that I’m a Caucasian male who’s roughly 45 years old and never served in the military. Piece of cake. I’ve got nothing to hide, right?
Then I got to Section 3 of 3. Here is the gist of what the application asked:
“How do I know if I have a disability?
You are considered to have a disability if you have a physical or mental impairment or medical condition that substantially limits a major life activity, or if you have a history or record of such an impairment or medical condition.
Disabilities include, but are not limited to … ”
The first time I saw this statement, I remember thinking that no, I’m not disabled. As I said before, I still walk, climb stairs, etc., etc. Sure, we have handicapped plates on our van, but those are for Jennifer and her wheelchair. I have MS, but I’m not —
I stared at the computer screen and momentarily stopped breathing. My heart probably skipped a beat or three, but I don’t know for sure. I couldn’t feel it after it dropped from my chest.
In a laundry list of other conditions
In a laundry list of various conditions ranging from cancer to autism and post-traumatic stress disorder, there was my disease: Multiple sclerosis.
Apparently it also is my disability.
I realize all this information was voluntary, and I easily could have backed up and skipped over this part. Many people do, and that likely is the best choice for them.
Proudly checking the box
But as weird as it sounds, from that first time and on every job application I’ve completed since then, I have proudly checked the box that states in all caps, “YES, I HAVE A DISABILITY (OR PREVIOUSLY HAD A DISABILITY.)”
Plus, with the blog that Jennifer and I manage, our guest posts here and on other blogs, and the number of times our story has been featured in the media, it’s not like I can keep my MS a secret.
So yes, if future employers consider me disabled and don’t want to hire me because I have MS, I didn’t want to work for them anyway.
Does MS define Jennifer and me? No, not exactly. We actually are moving forward with redefining what MS can be.
And it goes far beyond what prospective employers narrowly define as a disability.