Anyone remember the classic 80’s song from the Beastie Boys? You gotta fight ... for your right ... to parrrrty (our apologies for officially getting this stuck in your head for the rest of the day).
Ok, let’s take this and make it our own. As people living with MS, sometimes we gotta fight ... for our right ... to be on an even playing field at work. Ok, we admit, it may not have the same ring to it, but it couldn’t be truer.
Work can be difficult enough under the best of circumstances with long commutes, overwhelming responsibilities, painfully boring meetings and loads of stress (if you can’t relate to any of these, please tell us what your job is and how we can get hired there!). Add in multiple sclerosis and some jobs can truly become the challenge of all challenges.
But did you know that in many countries, your employer is actually required by law to help make your work life easier? Often falling under disability legislation, these laws are designed to ensure that employers make workplace accommodations for people facing health-related challenges.
Your immediate thought very well may be this – you’re calling me disabled?!?! No one wants to think of themselves as disabled, and especially for people living with MS, this term often times might not even seem accurate. But while we may not identify with the language, we can all identify with the benefits that these laws could offer us in the workplace.
Different Countries, Same Theme
Most developed countries offer some sort of disability law that ensures employers do not discriminate against people with disabilities, and in many cases, requires them to make reasonable accommodations to help employees with disabilities do their jobs. Here are a few:
The United States was the first country worldwide to prohibit disability-based discrimination with its passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in July 1990. Almost 25 years later this Act and its subsequent revisions are still working to ensure equality in opportunity for anyone with a disability when it comes to employment, state and local government services, public accessibility, transportation and telephone services.
With an estimated 1 in 5 people having a disability, Australia has a similar law with the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and subsequent legislation. Not only does it protect disabled people from unfair treatment in numerous aspects of public life, but it makes disability discrimination against the law. It also serves to promote equal rights, equal access and equal opportunities for disabled individuals.
Canada, interestingly, has a more narrowed focus with its Employment Equity Act while broadening the groups under protection. Workers cannot be discriminated against because of disability, gender, race or ethnicity. To ensure this, employers must not have rules, procedures or barriers that would negatively impact these groups.
The United Kingdom decided to go big or go home with its comprehensive Equality Act of 2010. Replacing earlier anti-discrimination laws including the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, it works to protect everyone regardless of gender, age, race, ethnicity, religious preference, sexual orientation or disabled status from a wide range of behavior including direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation.
According to the European Commission, Germany and France have adopted a dual approach to defining disability for the purposes of non-discrimination legislation. German law specifically cites that the general goal of the law is to overcome, as much as possible, the disability’s effects and to enable the disabled to participate in all areas of society, especially in the labor market and in community life.
So what do these laws mean to you? It depends on the country, but in most cases, employees can request a number of accommodations and employers are required by law to make them.
Do you have trouble getting around? You may be able to ask for help in this area. Some employers will provide reserved parking spaces for employees with limited mobility, making their walking distance a bit more manageable. You might even be able to ask for a desk or office closer to the door, restrooms or kitchen to limit the amount you have to walk throughout the day.
Do you have a job that requires you to be on your feet? Some employers are open to shifting your roles and responsibilities if you need more downtime. Try asking your employer if you can offload some of the more physically taxing aspects of your job and take on a few more stationary tasks.
Ergonomics is all the rage, and some disability laws require employers to address employees’ requests for more ergonomically friendly equipment. Specially designed chairs and desks can make a big impact on your comfort at work. Ergonomic mice and keyboards, and even voice activated software can make navigating a computer a lot easier too.
But it’s not just about the mechanics. Anyone deal with MS-related temperature issues? Instead of begging your co-workers to lower the temperature everywhere, some employers might offer you a private office where you can regulate the temperature yourself. They may even provide you with a personal fan, air conditioner or cooling vest to help keep you comfortable.
Now more than ever, there are loads of technologies that can help you overcome vision and dexterity challenges associated with your MS. And while many of these are often free and already installed on your computer’s operating system (check out the Microsoft and Apple accessibility pages), there is some software that your employer might be willing to purchase for you to make your life even easier at work.
AccessibleTech.org is a great resource for tips, product reviews and solutions related to accessible technology in the workplace.