Work & Multiple Sclerosis
Experts describe strategies that help multiple sclerosis patients cope with symptoms of the disease.
Working With MS continued...
But some experts believe that percentage could be higher. "Employers may have preconceived ideas about what a person with disabilities can do. It takes time to change attitudinal barriers. There's still work to be done," says Steve Nissen, director of employment programs at the NMSS.
That's why, for now, it's generally up to the employee with MS to initiate any discussions involving disclosure or accommodation requests in the workplace.
Nissen considers disclosure -- the whens, whos, and hows of it -- one of the most difficult aspects of working with MS, or any disability.
Before disclosing, Nissen suggests the following: "Ask yourself: 'What's going on to make you think it's time to disclose? Are you having new or different symptoms that's posing a challenge at work? Are you having trouble meeting deadlines, or missing time?'"
How to Tell Your Boss
Often, disclosure accompanies a request for special workplace accommodations. The approach can sway the outcome, Nissen notes. "It's more than saying 'This is what I need from you.' It's 'Here's how I can be more productive, effective, and reliable,'" Nissen tells WebMD.
In the best-case scenario, such discussions with an employer begin as open, two-way dialogues. "It really needs to be an interactive process. You can't just go in there, make your demands, and walk out," Nissen says.
"When it comes to accommodations, there are so many different possibilities based on symptoms and job duties," Nissen tells WebMD. An accommodation may mean an altered work schedule with shortened hours or telecommuting on an as-needed basis when fatigue becomes overwhelming. It may mean adaptive equipment that allows an employee to talk into a computer rather than tap on a keyboard. It might mean keeping one room at a lower temperature than the rest of the office, if heat sensitivity is an issue.
"These types of accommodations seem basic but they can really make a difference," Nissen says. Some cost more than others. To find out what's available, Nissen recommends that employees start researching locally, beginning with an area NMSS chapter and incorporating other resources such as one's state office of vocational rehabilitation.