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About to Resign? Accommodations for RA at Work

By Elizabeth Shimer Bowers
WebMD Feature

Whether you stock shelves, drive a forklift, or sit at a desk, if you have RA, you face special challenges at work.

Take Carol Britton, 54, who learned she had rheumatoid arthritis (RA) eight years ago and wondered how it would affect her career. Today, with help from some rheumatoid arthritis accommodations that she and her employer made, Britton has been promoted.

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"At the time of my diagnosis, I was regional marketing manager for a national hospital company; now I am director of hospital communications," she says. And along with new job skills, Britton has employed numerous coping mechanisms since her RA diagnosis.

"I try to balance activity with rest," she says. "If I know I have an upcoming day that will be physically challenging due to travel, I relax before and after." Britton also walks around regularly to loosen stiff joints. She has a computer case on wheels, wide cushioned pens, and a headset for her telephone.

"And I'm not afraid to ask for help when I need it, whether it's for a chair for a speaking event or assistance opening a water bottle," she says.

What RA accommodations might help you keep your job? Here are some ideas.

RA in the Workplace

"People working with RA experience pain when they type, fatigue while traveling, and stiffness as they drive to and from work," says Nadera J. Sweiss, MD, rheumatologist at the University of Chicago Medical Center. You may also feel guilty and worry that you're not working hard enough, she says.

Unfortunately, too many people with RA are afraid to speak up and ask for help to find ways they can stay productive. So they become frustrated and resign.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

"Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, all companies with 15 or more employees must make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, including RA," says David W. Smith, director of the Disability Assessment Research Clinic at the Arizona Arthritis Center at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. Rheumatoid arthritis accommodations may include rest breaks, workstation and schedule rearrangements, or duty changes.

If your rheumatoid arthritis and employment no longer seem compatible, here's a checklist to help you exhaust all your resources:

Have you told anyone at work about your condition? "I recommend people with RA talk to their supervisors about the disease," Britton says. Depending on your situation, you may want to talk with some of your coworkers, too.

"There are so many people who hear 'rheumatoid arthritis' and think it's the same as osteoarthritis. They don't realize it's a serious autoimmune disease that affects the joints, heart, and lungs," she says. The better people understand the disease, the more willing they will be to offer workplace accommodations.

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