Multiple sclerosis (MS) can make the workplace challenging. You may feel overwhelmingly fatigued and weak, or you may experience vision problems. These symptoms can prevent you from completing your day-to-day responsibilities.
But this doesn’t mean you should give up. A few adjustments to your work habits can go a long way to improving your performance. Being honest with your employer and coworkers can also relieve your stress and lead to more workplace accommodations.
A great first step is to simply be aware of your particular symptoms and their impact on your job.
Symptoms of MS
The symptoms of MS are caused by the disruption of the nerve signals in your body. Essentially, your immune system is mistakenly attacking the protective sheath or covering on your nerves, called myelin.
Here are just some of the common symptoms people with MS face:
- muscle spasms
- difficulty walking
- numbness and tingling
- vision problems, like blurred or double vision
- problems with memory, organization, focus, or problem-solving
- emotional difficulties, like depression and anxiety
- bowel or bladder problems
Working with MS
With the list of possible symptoms, it’s clear that people with MS could face challenges at work. But before you stop, or even quit your current job, take time to think about your options.
You’re not required by law to tell your employer about your condition. This can be a very personal decision, but it also needs to be a practical one. There are several things you should think about, including:
Your work relationships
Your relationships with your employer, supervisors, and coworkers could play a major role in your decision to be open about your diagnosis. You may be concerned about being viewed as “handicapped” and treated differently. On the other hand, you may feel a sense of relief once you let people know what’s going on. Your coworkers may be an important source of help and support.
You must consider your particular symptoms, their severity, and how they could impact your work. If you keep your illness a secret, and your job performance drops, you could be disciplined, demoted, or even fired. Your employer won’t be able to offer you any accommodations to help you do your job.
Under the ADA, your employer cannot discriminate against you because of your disability. That means they cannot fire you, withhold promotions, decrease your pay, or treat you differently in any negative way due to your MS.
Under the FMLA, you’re entitled to up to 12 weeks of leave to help you rest or recover due to a serious health condition that can affect your ability to do your job.
Not all employers are subject to ADA and FMLA laws. Be sure to look into the laws and regulations to see if they apply to your employment situation.
If you’re having difficulty at work, you should speak to your employer and request accommodations. You and your employer can then work together to find ways to help you perform your best. The Job Accommodation Network offers lots of information and ideas for adaptive devices and other accommodations.
Some examples of work accommodations and adaptive devices that could help with MS include:
- extra lighting or a stand magnifier at your work station to help with vision problems
- large-screen computer monitors or screen-reader programs
- schedule changes to ease fatigue, help stress levels, or allow for medical appointments
- a more ergonomic or adjustable office chair
- a large-key keyboard or voice-recognition typing software
- scheduling tools to help you organize and remember tasks and appointments
- grab bars in the restroom
- a rolling cart to help carry files to meetings
- moving your work station closer to the restroom or break room
- more communication by telephone or email, rather than face-to-face meetings
Your employer may even consider a remote working environment, allowing you to work from home part- or full-time.
The most important thing is that you don’t make any major decisions right away. Many people with MS continue to work without any major problems. And many more are able to keep the jobs they enjoy by making a few changes to the way they work. Take your time and examine your situation from all angles, and then make the best decision for you.