Employment and Multiple Sclerosis
Steve Nissen, Director, MS Navigator Services Delivery.
MS affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide.
If you have met one person with multiple sclerosis (MS), then you have met one person with MS. No two experiences are the same. MS is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Symptoms vary from person to person and range from numbness and tingling to walking difficulties, fatigue, dizziness, pain, depression, blindness and paralysis. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person can’t be predicted.
Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50—their prime career years. At least two to three times more women than men are diagnosed with the disease. At this age, many people have already completed their advanced training and education and they’ve been working and moving up the career ladder. They bring a wealth of experience.
Proactively think about relationship between MS and employment
It’s never too soon to think about the impact MS can have on employment, and vice versa. Often, people with MS don’t reach out for information and support until they face an employment crisis. Plan ahead as much as possible and learn about key employment issues including:
- Legal protections in the workplace, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act
- Issues surrounding disclosure, such as when is it necessary, to whom, what to say, and potential advantages and disadvantages of that decision
- Understanding accommodations: Many symptoms can be managed, but the responsibility to ask for what is needed is up to the employee
- Tap into available resources, whether it is to gain or to maintain employment
Maintaining employment is possible
Many people living with MS want to work and continue to work despite their symptoms, which can often be managed on the job with accommodations. This includes computer and other forms of assistive technology, proper ergonomic workstation set-up, arrangement of workspace by task frequency and priority, flexible work schedule such as telecommuting or altered hours, elimination of distractions and clutter that might impair attention, and other cognitive functioning. The type of accommodations may change over time as symptoms change, when a person experiences an exacerbation or when the job situation changes. Variability of symptoms may require accommodations to change. There are many resources available — use them and share them:
- Job Accommodation Network, https://askjan.org, (800) 526-7234
- ADA National Network, https://www.adata.org, (800) 949-4232
Connect with National MS Society resources to help you plan how best to manage the potential impact MS may have on employment
- nationalMSsociety.org, (800) 344-4867
- National MS Society employment-related brochures and publications
Editors note: Today is the last day of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. However, the National MS Society and other organizations provide employment resources and guidance year-round.