Working With MS
Now, when I think back to it, my relapse provided me with the motivation I needed to consider if I was on the right career track. I see it as an opportunity that allowed me to grow as a person.
Katharina saw the challenges she faced working with MS as chance to evaluate her current career track and explore new opportunities. And you can, too.
Whether you’re seeking a job, keeping one, or building a new career, make sure you show MS that it’s you who’s in charge. Read on to find out more.
There’s no denying that MS symptoms can make working more challenging, but small work adaptations, or ‘accommodations’, can often help make things easier – it’s a case of asking the right question at the right time.
In a survey of 746 members of the National MS Society, 88% of people living with MS who requested accommodations received them.
Here are just a few examples of work accommodations that could help you:
Mornings are hard for me, so I’ve adjusted my working hours to start a bit later, and now work from 10am to 5pm. There is a couch in my office that I use for rests in the afternoon every day, and I’m also able to work from home if I need to. My work understands that I need these accommodations in order to be successful.
If you need accommodations, I recommend being specific about what you need and why. Your employer doesn’t need to know about every aspect of how MS impacts your life. Think about how your symptoms might impact your workday and be clear about what you need in order to do your best work.
It’s important that you know your employment rights when you have MS. Each country and each job will have its own regulations about disclosing MS and guidance around work accommodations, so make sure you understand the specific employment laws and regulations that apply to you and your job.
Think about what adjustments could be made to make your working life easier, and don’t be afraid to ask for them.
All workers in Canada are protected by federal, provincial or territorial employment laws. These laws include employment equity, which encourages the establishment of working conditions that are free of barriers, corrects the conditions of disadvantage in employment and promotes the principle that employment equity requires special measures and the accommodation of differences for the four designated groups in Canada. These groups are defined by the Employment Equity Act as:
Working through day-to-day life with MS can sometimes bring challenges. Below, Katharina shares her tips and tricks to work through them:
The unpredictability of MS might make your current job challenging or, perhaps, make you worry about your future career. But MS doesn’t have to stand in the way of either of these.
Making decisions about changing your job or about a future career will depend on your individual circumstances, the nature of your symptoms, and the type of work you do. For example, if you have a job that’s physically demanding, like a construction worker, and your MS affects your strength and balance, you may need to consider a less physically demanding role. Office jobs tend to be more suited to people with MS, as they are less physically demanding and there is more flexibility. But if you have a mentally demanding job and you have problems with thinking and decision-making, a less mentally challenging role may need to be considered. Remember, there are usually ways to work around the challenges at your current job, so make sure you think through all your options before deciding to change jobs. With open communication and few adaptions, Grace hasn’t let her MS get in the way of her career as a performer!
I’m an actor/singer, so I work on stage and in pubs and bars – basically, wherever I perform. Because of my symptoms, I’ve had to slightly adapt my performances, as I can’t dance or move as fast as I used to. I try to be honest and open with the directors when I go to auditions, so they know what my limitations are. So far, I’ve had good experiences, but it’s hard to know if telling people is for the best, as you never know if it will be held against you.
In some cases, certain workplace adjustments, like changing hours or responsibilities, can make your current job more manageable. Or, you might want or need to change your job or career completely. Perhaps there’s something you’ve always wanted to try.
Remember to take your time to weigh all your options before making any big decisions about work and your future career. When you’re figuring out how best to navigate these challenges, you may even realize there are new opportunities out there for the taking.
My first relapse (and only one so far) really motivated me to think about what I really wanted. It made me take time for myself and rethink my attitude towards working.
Your knowledge and experience don’t disappear; you just might have to apply it in new ways.
Below are some things to consider when starting to think about a new or change in career.
Starting or changing careers
There’s a lot to consider when starting or changing jobs or career. Start by asking yourself:
I have a master’s degree in early childhood studies and have worked with kids for 17 years. A year ago, I made a career change because my fatigue was making it too difficult to maintain the energy I needed to be a quality educator and still feel well. I found a different job that focused on supporting parents with disabilities, which has allowed me to use my previous experience and expertise in new ways. Best of all, I can take breaks and rest whenever I need to, which was impossible when I was caring for a room full of children!
I work independently as an entrepreneur and have started up my own nutrition and dietitian consultancy business – I have a busy and varied schedule, but there is huge flexibility. A lot of the time my office is my kitchen table! I would have started my own company regardless, but having MS was a bit of a motivator for me.
Self-employment gives you control over your work environment and flexibility to work around your needs with MS. Here are a few resources to help you learn more:
Whether you choose to be self-employed or an employee, make sure it’s something that interests you and builds on your strengths. Find something that’s right for you.
Once you’ve made your decision about the type of job you want, the next step big step is interviews. Make sure you’re prepared and ask the right questions to make sure the job is a suited to you.
Before the interview
Do your research and do some digging. Make sure you’re prepared by knowing everything there is to know about the job you’re applying for: What’s the job description? What skills does it require? What are the company values? Also, look online for any recent news about the company or industry, or updates on the company website.
When scheduling interviews, make sure the time works for you. If you have more energy in the morning, ask for a morning interview.
During the interview
Make sure you highlight any relevant skills, experience, and education that make you right for the job. Ask lots of questions and use the interview as an opportunity to learn more about the job and company, too – it’s a 2-way process, so you need to make sure it’s a good fit for you. You may even decide it’s not the right job, or you may not get offered the job. Remember that this is all part of the process, stay positive, and know that you will find something that’s better suited to you.
It’s usually best not to disclose your MS at interviews
I like to be open and honest about my MS upfront, so I told people about my MS before and during interviews, even though my symptoms weren’t affecting me at the time. I’ve since realised that this was probably not the right approach – an interview is not the best setting to inform people about your MS, especially if your symptoms aren’t affecting you at the time. There is no time to properly explain it, and people may not deal with it well if they don’t know about what it means to have MS.
I have found it’s best to wait until after I have been hired to discuss my diagnosis and request accommodations. It’s usually best not to disclose your diagnosis upfront but you need to do what’s best for you.
Legally, you are not required to disclose your diagnosis unless you’re asking for job accommodation. Even then, you are only required to describe the limitations you may have in carrying out certain essential tasks of the job and you do not have to disclose that you have MS. If you need to take some time off work because of your MS, your doctor does not need to indicate your diagnosis on the medical note to your employer.
If you do decide to disclose your MS to your employer, it may be a good idea to share a copy of MS in the Workplace: An Employer’s Guide to educate and help guide the conversation.
For more information and guidance, you can visit the following sections of MS Society Canada:
There are many independent organizations that offer career advice, support, and more:
The Government of Canada has a page of resources and information on types of jobs available too
Articles to help you show MS who’s in charge, whether you’re seeking a job, or building a new career.