Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects everyone differently, and just because you have been diagnosed with MS does not mean that you can’t have a fulfilling career: Around 61 percent of people diagnosed with MS remain employed.
A job can be important to your overall quality of life: It not only benefits you financially; it can also improve your sense of purpose, identity, and self-worth. Other positive benefits of having a career include opportunities for friendship and socializing, a sense of stability, intellectual challenges, and a chance to contribute to the public good.
However, if your MS symptoms progress with decreasing mobility, cognitive impairments, and increasing fatigue, you may find that certain job tasks become more challenging. Planning for a shift — whether that’s changing careers, moving from full-time to part-time work, or arranging for accommodations — can help alleviate the stress and anxiety related to employment.
It is important to consider the type of work that can best accommodate your MS symptoms, such as jobs that don’t require a lot of physical activity, travel, or a long commute. If you’re experiencing cognitive decline, then staying away from jobs that rely on memory, speed, or cognitive flexibility might be a good idea. “I’m trying to keep working, but I'm a chef,” wrote one MyMSTeam member. “It is the worst career for someone with MS.”
If you are experiencing symptoms that interfere with your work, you might consider positions that are more flexible or slower-paced. Online or work-from-home jobs, such as writer, customer support associate, or call center employee, may decrease demands on your mobility. Library or bookstore jobs may offer a calmer environment.
You could also consider turning your hobby into a career. A MyMSTeam member explained how they decided to change a hobby into a job: “When I was working, the stress was so bad that it was making me sick. My hobby was gardening, and I knew the owners of the garden center that I went to,” the member said. “I asked them for a job. They knew I had MS and were willing to work with my limitations.”
That said, employers — including yours, if you have one — should be able to accommodate your needs with MS through what’s called reasonable accommodation.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), people who are diagnosed with a disability such as MS are protected by law against discrimination and have the right to request reasonable accommodations at work and at school. The ADA covers employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments.
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Knowing your rights and understanding how your employer and your boss can accommodate your needs — especially during flare-ups — can help create an easier transition. Depending on your stage of disease and MS symptoms, you can request these workplace accommodations, among others:
Take the time to learn and understand your rights and what you can request from your employer’s human resources department, so you can continue to work through all stages of your disease progression as you see fit. “Size of the company and what you are requesting makes a difference,” wrote one MyMSTeam member. “If you are concerned, I suggest you reach out to the MS Society for help, or maybe even your neurologist office. I go through an MS center that has a counselor on staff that helps with these kinds of issues.”
Here are a few resources to help guide you:
Read more about workplace accommodations for people with MS here.
Even with reasonable accommodations, you may find that a job change remains the best solution for you. “I need to find a career change. The stress of teaching and the ever changing requirements makes me blind,” a MyMSTeam member shared.
If you decide to change your career path or job, keep an open mind about future possibilities. Depending on your interests, experience, and goals, you can take steps now to expand your education and training, take a deep dive into a self-assessment, and work on interviewing skills.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society suggests that when you start thinking about your career journey, you should explore your personal feelings and attitudes about work and career. Identify your skills, needs, and abilities, and find resources that might assist you in finding the best fit.
Expanding your education and training are great ways to learn new skills and information and to build on your existing skill set. Your local vocational rehabilitation agency can share career guidance and help connect you with employment or training. Consider networking, obtaining a new certification in your field, learning a new skill, or taking a class.
Finding a rewarding job begins with understanding what you’re looking for. A good place to start is by taking a self-assessment of your skills and values, and what work you are interested in. Check out these resources to help guide you:
Seeing an occupational therapist (OT) when your symptoms increase is a great way to get help with activities of daily living and working. An OT can help you with skills that may allow you to remain more functional on the job, such as writing, using mobility aids, using the toilet, and many more.
MyMSTeam is the social network for people with MS and their loved ones. A community of more than 165,000 people impacted by MS come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their experiences living and working with MS.
How have you dealt with your employment and MS? Are you thinking about a job or career change? Do you have experience asking for accommodations on the job? Share your experience in the comments below or on MyMSTeam.