Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Employment Issues for Persons with MS

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By: James Crew, Programs Intern

Recent studies suggest that 56-58% of all persons nationwide who have a medical diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis are unemployed. The most common cited reasons for MS related disease factors related to these percentages are physical and cognitive impairments. The most frequent report of physical hindrance towards maintaining employment is fatigue. Fatigue related challenges limit what an individual with MS can do each day and in response to these limitations directly effects duration of employment and subsequent termination.

Other disease related challenges, such as visual and cognitive impairments (blurred vision or memory difficulties), or incontinence affects the ability to carry out specific job-related tasks. In some cases, it also affects the ability to negotiate the physical environment of the work place (stairs, hand function). That is of course considering that the act of getting to the workplace itself is possible.

So how can we make the workplace more accommodating for persons with MS? Some studies indicate that the person able to remain employed identify job flexibility as the largest contributing factor. For some, this means flexible hours of arrival and departure. For others it means a place to rest during the day, or the freedom to take days off and/or work from home when necessary.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) has these specific suggestions for being employed with MS:
First, employers could provide accommodations to address specific limitations including increased flexibility in work hours and breaks during regular intervals for MS patients with fatigue. Ergonomic solutions to support hand limitations and reduced demands on ambulation could also be beneficial for specific physical limitations. In addition, cognitive dysfunction and fatigue can be addressed in the occupational therapy or rehabilitation setting with specific skills training, improving coping mechanisms, compensatory strategies, or cognitive rehabilitation. (Journal of Neurology, 2008)

Of course no two cases of MS are the same. Most accommodations for employees with MS are attainable and inexpensive. Both employer and potential employee should work to find a healthy and agreeable solution that will meet anticipated and unanticipated needs.

The Greater Carolinas Chapter of the National MS Society has been a member of the Raleigh Mayor’s Committee for Persons with Disabilities for years. Together we support efforts to educate employers about workplace accommodations. In fact, the Committee is partnering with the Raleigh-Wake Human Resource Management Association and the Meredith Society for HR Management student chapter for an HRCI certified Employer Resource Day to tackle many of the issues discussed above, with an emphasis on etiquette and accommodations. Employer Resource Day will take place on July 18th from 8:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at Meredith College in Dogwood A and B, located beneath the Belk Dining Room. 


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