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Workplace Accommodations for People With MS

Posted on May 06, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D.
Article written by
Nyaka Mwanza

If you are living with multiple sclerosis (MS), you may find that the condition’s impact on your central nervous system can make it difficult to perform essential job tasks. You may therefore need adjustments to the type of work you do and how you do it. These adjustments are called workplace accommodations — and by law, U.S. employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for employees with recognized disabilities.

Understanding how your MS symptoms can affect your work and ways that you or your employer can accommodate them can help ensure your ability to continue pursuing gainful employment.

How MS Can Affect Work

Some people with MS have mild symptoms that impact their careers minimally. For example, one MyMSTeam member shared, “I was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) in 1974. Other than five days in the hospital being diagnosed, I did not take any time off work.”

For many other people with MS, though, symptoms may be so severe that getting to work or through the day can be difficult.

MS, a chronic and progressive disease, can lead to varying degrees of impairment and disability, including:

The type of work, the work environment, and how the work is done can also affect your MS. Exacerbations such as work-related stresses may trigger or worsen MS flares, making it important to determine and use the appropriate accommodations to do your best work.

Workplace Accommodations

Most people cite a combination of the many physical, cognitive, and emotional symptoms of MS as the reasons for leaving their jobs. Workplace accommodations are the various adjustments to a role, function, or environment that enables a person with a disability to continue their employment. Job accommodations can include:

  • Ensuring workplace accessibility
  • Providing adaptive workspace equipment
  • Modifying schedules

Accommodations can also include changing a person’s job title, redefining their role or function, or assigning them to another role within the same organization.

Reasonable job accommodations are the workplace accommodations a U.S. employer is obligated — under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) — to provide to a person with a disability. These accommodations allow you to continue working despite the constraints of your condition. “Reasonable” means that the accommodation would not cause the employer an “undue hardship.” An undue hardship could be something that is impractical, hazardous, or exorbitantly expensive.

Accommodations for Fatigue

MS-related fatigue has a huge impact on a person’s ability to do their job. Fatigue, which affects 90 percent of people with MS, is the most frequently cited MS symptom as a barrier to employment. Some ways to accommodate the chronic exhaustion include:

  • Reducing or changing your work hours
  • Working from home
  • Taking time off

Accommodations for Mobility Issues

Pain and muscle spasticity in the limbs are common complaints among people with MS. Workspace adaptations that can assist with the mobility issues include:

Accommodations for Vision Impairment

Technology offers many accommodations for vision problems. Computer assistive technology enables many individuals, despite level of impairment or disability, to fully access the computer world. For example, speech-recognition software and modified or alternative keyboards allow continued interaction via computers.

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) — a no-cost service providing information about the ADA and workplace accommodations — has a Searchable Online Accommodation Resource (SOAR). SOAR is a great tool for exploring ways to accommodate MS in your work life.

Understanding Your Employer’s Obligations

People with MS are legally protected from discrimination by the Americans with Disabilities Act. These protections mean that the employer has a legal obligation to provide reasonable workplace accommodations for you and your medical condition.

Your employer is obligated to provide the agreed upon accommodations if:

  • You meet the requirements to be classified as disabled according to the ADA
  • The employer meets the ADA’s qualifiers
  • Providing accommodations would not cause an undue hardship

It is not the employer’s responsibility to proactively provide reasonable accommodations to an employee, nor to determine what accommodations an employee with MS needs. Additionally, if an employee requests any reasonable accommodations for a disability, the employer is not allowed to blame that employee’s disability for any previous performance or disciplinary issues.

Your Obligations and Rights at Work

Under the ADA, qualified individuals have certain responsibilities that help ensure they’re protected from discrimination and other illegal actions an employer might take in response to their health condition or disability.

Proactivity

It is the employee’s responsibility to submit an accommodation request. If you do not hear back in a timely fashion, it’s your responsibility to follow up.

Privacy

Per the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, your employer can request supporting information to determine whether your MS aligns with the ADA definition of disability.

That said, you are entitled to privacy.

Your employer is required to keep your disclosure confidential and in a separate file from your personnel file. Your accommodations can be discussed with your manager or supervisors, but you do not have to disclose your diagnosis or details about your medical condition to your manager when discussing job accommodations.

Advocating for Yourself at Your Workplace

Knowledge is the key to successfully advocating for your needs in the workplace. Start by learning about your workplace employment policy. JAN’s Workplace Accommodation Toolkit has fact sheets, suggestions of different accommodations, and even a sample job-accommodation request letter. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has a helpful publication about the ADA for people with MS.

You should also familiarize yourself with options provided by the Family and Medical Leave Act, Social Security Disability Insurance, and many other government programs and policies.

Learn more about disability benefits and MS here.

Deciding To Disclose

There may come a time when you need to have a conversation with your employer. Know that the decisions of whether and when to disclose to your employer are personal, and they come with risks and benefits. Preparing yourself in advance to discuss symptoms such as fatigue and cognitive difficulties can help.

It is hard to know what to expect or when the time is right to make adjustments to your work. The health care providers involved in your MS treatment can help you prepare for a discussion about accommodations at work. Your health care team is experienced and can advise you well.

When Accommodations Aren’t Enough

There may come a time when MS makes work unmanageable or impossible, despite workplace accommodations. “I have moderate MS but it’s debilitating enough that continuing full-time work was no longer a possibility,” a MyMSTeam member said.

A vocational rehabilitation therapist can help you explore career options or positions that may better accommodate a person living with multiple sclerosis.

Read more about career options for those with MS here.

Connect With Others Who Understand

It may feel isolating to need and ask for accommodations for your MS at work. Having the support of others who understand your situation may help. MyMSTeam is the social network for people with MS and their loved ones. Here, more than 167,000 members come together to give advice, ask questions, and share their experiences of life with MS.

How has having MS affected your ability to do your job? What accommodations have you found helpful? Leave a comment below or start a conversation on MyMSTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D. is a neurology and pediatric specialist and treats disorders of the brain in children. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Nyaka Mwanza has worked with large global health nonprofits focused on improving health outcomes for women and children. Learn more about her here.

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