November 14, 2013
If and when to inform my employers of my MS was never straight-forward. MS surprised me in my first year of teaching; I was just out of college. Without tenure, I could be let go for any reason. Of course the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) theoretically protected me from non-retention related to disabilities but as a teacher, my employer wasn’t required to provide a reason.
When MS affected my performance or if I needed an accommodation to continue working, that is when I let out my secret. Some of the accommodations I received as a teacher and administrator include: continuing in the same teaching assignment for ease of planning, classroom aide to help filter non-essential conversations, more light in my work space and a larger computer screen due to vision issues, work schedule flexibility, extended cleaning services to keep me from getting sick, an aide to assist with setting up the classroom at the beginning of the year, an assistant to help with tedious paperwork and miscellaneous tasks, and more.
When interviewing for unsolicited employment opportunities, I decided to be upfront about MS. The last thing I wanted was to leave a secure job where MS was accepted and accommodated to enter a position with uncertainty. I’m happy to say I was offered every job I interviewed for with full disclosure of my need for accommodations and increased medical expenses. Despite wonderful opportunities falling into my lap, I never accepted the offers. Fearing the move and change in positions would cause new MS attacks and knowing I was limping to the disability finish line, I didn’t feel it was fair to a new employer.
Learn more about the Americans with Disabilities Act at www.ada.gov or check out “A Guide to Disability Rights Law” at www.ada.gov/cguide.htm. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has a legal guide for MS patients called, “Know Your Rights.” Find it at: http://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=telling+employers+you+have+multiple+sclerosi&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8.