Multiple Sclerosis is one of the most common causes of disability in young adults, but a diagnosis shouldn’t stop you from starting or continuing your career.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic condition involving your central nervous system, affecting your brain and spine. It causes your immune system to attack the myelin surrounding your nerve fibres, making it hard to for your brain to send signals around the body.
More than 130,000 people have MS in the UK, and many notice their symptoms well before they receive a diagnosis. Although it is most common for people in their 20s or 30s to be diagnosed with MS, it can develop at any age. And whilst the average life expectancy is slightly reduced, its symptoms are usually treatable. However, the condition will stay with you for life and can sometimes cause severe disability.
It can cause a wide range of symptoms that can vary widely for each person, but often include:
- Fatigue and difficulty walking
- Vision problems or blurred vision
- Muscle stiffness and spasms
- Issues with balance and co-ordination
- Difficulty with thinking, learning and planning
Working with MS
An MS diagnosis typically occurs at a young age, and most are likely to be in work later in life. As symptoms can fluctuate over time, it is often necessary to make adjustments to your work setup.
Many employees are reluctant or nervous to talk to their employer about their diagnosis. Yet, it can be an essential step towards ensuring the workplace is adjusted to enable you to continue working as comfortably as possible.
It’s your choice how and what you tell your employer, but it’s a good idea to talk about the following:
- The medical treatment you are receiving
- The expected effects MS will have on you in and your ability to continue doing your job
- Any reasonable adjustments you need to carry out your role
As a result of the Equality Act passed in 2010, it is your right to request for your employer to make reasonable adjustments. These can include flexible working hours or a particular chair to sit in.
You can apply for financial support from the government’s Access to Work scheme, which can help fund for specialist equipment or the cost of transportation to and from the workplace.
Looking for Work
You may be concerned that being diagnosed with MS will negatively effect on your chances of securing a job or starting a career in the industry of your choice. Jobseekers commonly ask the following questions before an interview:
Do I have to tell a potential employer about my MS if they ask?
During any recruitment process, employers can only ask if you require any extra support in the workplace or if you have any access requirements.
Should I tell them anyway?
Although many people choose to wait until they have an offer of employment, many employers have policies and arrangements in place to accommodate people living with multiple forms of disability.
How do I find the right employers?
Finding an employer who is supportive of your requirements and willing to make reasonable adjustments is important, and an easy way of identifying one is to look for the Disability Confident logo on their adverts or website.
Information for Employers
Most employees diagnosed with MS will only require small changes in order to carry on performing as usual, and workers have a right to request any ‘reasonable adjustments’ for them to keep working. The most crucial part of supporting an employee with MS is to listen and understand their needs and continue to communicate with them as much as possible.
It is also essential to consider the employee’s confidentiality and take care not to disclose any information they have shared with you about their diagnosis unless given specific approval. If they wish for their condition to remain private, their wishes must be respected.
Organisations such as the MS Society have resources and guidance when supporting your workforce to ensure all your employee’s needs are considered and cared for.