MS and Workplace Accommodations
Living and working with multiple sclerosis can be a real challenge. Luckily, the Americans with Disabilities Act (or ADA for short) requires most employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to qualified disabled individuals. Reasonable accommodations are modifications to a job, employment practice or process, or a work environment to make it possible for you to successfully fulfill the duties of your job. (For general tips about requesting workplace accommodations, see Workplace Accommodations Under the Americans With Disabilities Act).
Since the ADA places the initial burden on the worker to inform his or her employer about the need for an accommodation, you’ll want to be as prepared as possible before speaking with your boss. First, you’ll want to consider exactly how your multiple sclerosis makes it more difficult for you to do your job. Which specific tasks are more problematic? Is it difficult for you to carry things due to upper extremity weakness? Is it difficult for you to see or read? Are you having trouble communicating or remembering work assignments? Does fatigue make it difficult for you to get through the day? It’s important to remember that not everyone with multiple sclerosis will experience the same limitations – and the degree of each limitation will also vary.
Once you pinpoint the specific issues that are most problematic for you, it’s time to start brainstorming suggestions for improvements. What types of accommodations would best be able to reduce or eliminate your issues? Here are some general suggestions that may be useful for individuals living with multiple sclerosis to request:
- Nearby parking
- Accessible entrance or automatic doors
- Accessible facility – including restrooms and break rooms
- Proper office lighting
- Take steps to minimize distractions
- Ergonomic workstation design – keyboard, mouse, chair, etc.
- Alternative computer or telephone access
- Arm supports
- Writing and grip aids
- Page turner and book holder
- Speech amplification, speech enhancement, or other communication device
- Optical magnifiers, large print materials, or screen reading software
- Glare screen for computer monitor
- Appropriate workspace lighting
- Use of air conditioner, fan, or heater for temperature sensitivity issues
- Location closer to restroom, office equipment used regularly, or break room
- Prioritize job assignments
- Provide written job instructions when possible
- Provide memory aids – such as schedulers or organizers
- Provide more structure
- Reduce physical exertion required or provide mobility aids
- Reduce workplace stress
- Longer breaks or additional periodic rest breaks to reorient
- Flexible work hours or changes in shift scheduling
- Flexible use of leave time
- Self-paced work load
- Work from home or weekend work options
- Time off without penalty for medical appointments
- Sensitivity training for coworkers
Make sure you identify which issues – and which solutions – you think are most important before making an appointment to speak with your employer. For help brainstorming about your specific health/job situation, contact the Job Accommodation Network – a free, confidential, and personalized service provided by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Who can relate? "Just because I could do something last year, last month, last week or yesterday doesn’t mean I can do it today. Also, it doesn’t mean I can’t."