After you're diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, you may worry about how your condition could affect your work life.
You can work with MS. Many people with it stay in their job for many years after they’re diagnosed. It varies greatly from person to person. In time, you may need to ask for accommodations so you can continue there. You may even find other kinds of work that you can do.
The Effects on Your Job
Now, or in the future, you may have some symptoms that make your work more difficult.
- Double vision
- Partial sight loss
- Slurred speech
- Trouble walking
- Weak or numb limbs
- Spastic, hard-to-control body movements
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
How it affects you may also depend on the type of work you do. If you get dizzy or have double vision, it’s unsafe to drive a delivery truck or operate machinery. Some people with MS find it more difficult to focus their thoughts. Usually, it just takes more time. Planning or analysis may also get tougher the longer you have MS.
What You Can Do
First, don’t panic. The Americans with Disabilities Act protects your right to have a job you’re qualified to do, even if you have a disability like MS.
The law allows you to ask for reasonable accommodations, so you can do your job with your disability. These tweaks can include:
- Special equipment or devices
- Different work hours
- Use of unpaid leave or vacation time for medical treatment
- Changing or swapping of tasks that aren’t essential for your job
- A reserved parking spot
In any case, you’ll need to be able to do the essential functions of your job. For example, if you’re a receptionist, the ability to answer phone calls is a basic part of the role. If your MS makes it hard for you to use the phone, and there’s no one else to help you do it, you may need to find other work.
If you have MS, you may qualify for Social Security benefits. That doesn’t mean that you can’t work at any job or that you automatically qualify as disabled.
Talk with a lawyer who specializes in disability claims to find out if you're entitled to benefits.
Tell Your Boss?
In some cases, you may want or need to tell your employer that you have MS.
If you have MS and apply for a new job: You don’t have to tell anyone about your condition during your interview process, unless you ask for accommodations to do the job. Any employer can ask you if you’re able to perform the necessary functions of the position. If it requires you to lift heavy boxes or type at a certain speed, you may have to show that you can do that.
If you already have a job and develop MS: You don’t have to tell your boss anything unless you ask for accommodations. Your employer does have the right to ask why you need new equipment or work hours, so you’ll have to give information to back up your request.
Even if you don't ask for accommodations, you may decide to tell your employer that you have MS. If you decide to, start with a private talk. You could share things like:
- Your diagnosis
- What your doctor says
- Simple changes to your job that may make it easier for you to do it
Then, you may want to meet with your other co-workers to tell them about your condition. If they’ve noticed some of your symptoms, this can put them at ease. You may also want to suggest ways you can help each other with job tasks.
It’s your decision whether to stay in your current job, now that you have MS. Your symptoms may be mild for a while, or they may go away. You might be able to control your condition with treatments, so you can work.
If your MS symptoms make it hard to do your job, you may need to make changes. You could:
- Work fewer hours or part-time
- Find a different job that you can do with your MS symptoms
- Train for another type of employment
- Find work you can do at home or online
If you need to stop working, you can still volunteer. This may give you a sense of pride, and it could allow you to teach or help others.
If you're concerned about what the future may bring, try something called a work self-assessment. You can take online tests to help you figure out if your MS symptoms could affect your job. These tools can help you decide which changes you need to make now, or which ones you may need to consider down the road.