Employment and MS

For many of us, our careers define a large part of our identities. Conversely, an MS diagnosis can put a wrench in how we view and think of ourselves in the workforce.

As an unpredictable disease, MS can have varying effects on a person’s ability to work—whether an individual can continue to do the same kind of work, or even work at all. Most people are diagnosed with MS between the ages of 20 and 50—their prime career years. At this age, many people have already completed their advanced training and education, and they’ve been working and moving up the career ladder.

Just like the symptoms of MS are unique to each person, the effects of MS on employment are varied. Some individuals continue to work with little to no adjustments, some work with accommodations/adaptations, and some choose to leave the workforce. It’s important to think ahead and to utilize resources to make the best possible decision when it comes to MS and employment.

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: You can also connect with National MS Society resources to help you plan how best to manage the potential impact MS may have on employment: Living with MS does not mean an end to your career. With due diligence, you can continue to have a fulfilling career and adjust to your needs.

Tell us: has MS had an impact on your employment? How?
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Steve Nissen

Steve Nissen is currently the Director of MS Navigator Services Delivery at the National MS Society and has been with the organization since 1998. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from James Madison University, a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling from Virginia Commonwealth University – Medical College of Virginia and is a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor. Steve co-authored “Employment Issues and Multiple Sclerosis,” 2nd edition.