Communicating with Employers and Co-workers about MS

While The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified employees and applicants with disabilities, it is often a challenging or difficult subject to bring up in the workplace. Individuals may fear that by asking for an accommodation, they may be judged or viewed as unable to complete the work at hand.

Navigating this process can be difficult, but there is a resource to help. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is an organization of employment experts that can provide confidential guidance around accommodations, or employment related issues.

On their website, they provide information about various conditions and offer helpful information about accommodations that have been used in the past for a number of different scenarios. To speak to someone directly, you can also reach the Job Accommodation Network at (800)526-7234 if you would prefer a more personalized one-to-one approach.

When it comes to discussing MS with co-workers, there are no set rules or regulations to follow. Just know that once the information is out there, it cannot be taken back. Opening up at work is a very personal decision and should be evaluated on an individual level. If you choose to disclose, prioritize who you feel should know about your MS (supervisor, direct team members, co-workers, and office staff).

Do you have any experience asking for accommodations at work? How was that experience for you?

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The first “Ask Me Anything” on MultipleSclerosis.net!

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You may have heard of one of the latest trends in social media discussion forums, called “Ask Me Anything”, or “AMA”, popularized by websites like Reddit. An AMA is a common chat topic or general discussion forum thread in which people ask someone who is an expert in a certain area questions relating to his or her life or expertise. Last month, MultipleSclerosis.net hosted our first AMA event on our Facebook page, and it was amazing! The event was hosted by our team of moderators in honor of MS Awareness month, with the goal of providing a set time where members of our community could ask our team anything about MS symptoms (our chosen theme for this particular event). The results were tremendous! Our first AMA prompted over 240 posts in just one hour – including questions, comments, and replies – which averages out to about 4 posts per minute!

Though the main theme of the AMA was MS Symptoms, a wide variety of topics were discussed, including rights at work, discontent treating physicians, how to provide support to relatives and loved ones who have MS, how to manage fatigue, what it means to have secondary progressive MS, and what to do upon first receiving an MS diagnosis.

Our moderators and team answered the community’s questions based on personal experience as well as the wealth of articles on MultipleSclerosis.net. Here is a brief summary of some of the topics that were discussed!

I’m unhappy with the treatment I’m receiving from my current neurologist. One place to start is by taking a look at a registry of MS experts here. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society may also be able to provide recommendations for practitioners in your area. Additionally, attending patient meetings can be very helpful for coping with many aspects of having MS, and they also serve as a great source of information like names of good doctors.

What can I do to manage my MS fatigue? Believe it or not, exercise actually helps some people with MS manage their fatigue. – It stimulates certain chemicals in the brain to make us feel better. Working full time while taking care of one’s family is exhausting for MSers. Another idea would be to try meditation or yoga for its calming and healing effects.

What are my rights at work with regard to disclosing my condition, and receiving the support that I need? The ADA requires an employer to provide assistive equipment/aids so someone who is disabled can continue doing his or her work. It also prohibits the employer from firing someone for being disabled, but does not protect you from termination if the employer cites other reasons. It is also important to contact someone in your Human Resources (HR) department if your company has one. Those who work in HR are experts in this subject. Our expert, Cathy, also wrote a great article about helping those who are disabled look for work.

How can I be helpful to a loved one who has MS who lives far from me? One of the best ways to provide support is to be there for loved ones when they need to talk, and show an interest in how this is affecting her or her life. Ask her how she’s doing, and listen to her response.

What is secondary progressive MS? Secondary progressive MS is a type of MS. While relapsing-remitting MS is the most common type of the condition, secondary progressive MS impacts many in the MS community. Here is some more information on SPMS.

What does it mean to be in remission? Being in “remission” doesn’t necessarily mean that your symptoms completely disappear (some people will return to feeling exactly as they did before the exacerbation began). Stephanie wrote a very comprehensive article on relapses and remission in her MS 101 on understanding relapses.

Where should a person who was just diagnosed with MS start? You should start with a request to see a neurologist– preferably one who specializes in MS – and have a complete workup of your history and an MRI. Unfortunately, it can take a long time to find answers.

We truly appreciate all of our community members who participated in our first AMA, and of course our amazing team of moderators who were feverishly responding to all of the questions during a very exciting hour! We will definitely be hosting more AMAs in the future, so we will keep the community updated when we have the next one scheduled!

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Work, work, work…

In today’s world, work tends to be one of the main focal points of everyday conversation. What work you do, how long you’ve been doing it, and what work you hope to do in the future become areas of focus. Therefore it can be difficult when some of these conversation starters touch on a subject that’s a little less defined for some people, especially those having challenges in a job position due to a disability.

Employment concerns and issues can arise for all individuals within the workforce, and when you throw a disease like multiple sclerosis into the mix these issues can cause frustration and confusion. Some individuals have difficulties deciding which work arena would be most appropriate for their skill set and abilities, while others question how long they will be able to continue the work they are currently doing. These are all relevant and important questions to consider, as many find themselves faced with these thoughts. What’s important to know is that work issues are something you can discuss with others so you are not faced with these questions alone. Your doctor, healthcare and social work professionals, family, friends and other resources may be able to assist in this process.

There are also other outlets of information and resources where one can possibly find assistance with employment issues. A Vocational Rehabilitation office is a resource throughout each state that is designed to assist those with disabilities on information and resources regarding employment changes. There is also a resource called the Job Accommodation Network, www.askjan.org that can offer information regarding workplace accommodations which can create greater accessibility to those with disabilities in the workplace. If you’re experiencing workplace issues you’re welcome to call the MSAA Helpline at phone (800) 532-7667, ext. 154 or email us at msquestions@mymsaa.org. Again, though employment issues can be challenging and create many difficult questions, there are potential resources to help you along the way.

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