How MS Affected My Career and the Accommodations I Needed

Vicki Health Guide
  • How did my MS affect my career? Here is my story.

    I really didn't know anything about MS.
    My walk was becoming one that often made me look drunk, and my doctor suggested I try a cane. My hands were also affected, and I used a hand brace if I had to type on the computer. Everyone at work knew I had some type of medical problem, but no one knew what it was. I did not know either. I once entered a meeting carrying my shoes. I had a large rip in my hose and a wet and bloody leg. I had fallen in the parking lot on a rainy day. Another time, I was walking down the corridor with a coworker when I fell in such a way that I tripped her, too. These are just a couple of the dramatic incidents that introduced me and my MS to the workplace.

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    I was diagnosed with MS around the time my company became part of the large consortium. I was selected for a position that would take a lot of time, thought and memory. I was "on loan" to the new consortium CEO. He knew I had MS. He was from Scotland, the country with the highest incidence of MS, and probably knew more about the disease than I did when the decision was made.

    I was excited and invigorated. I had new-found energy, working in marketing activities as a writer and doing research, event coordination and sometimes liaison. My favorite assignment was writing speeches. However, after a year and a half, MS began introducing to me the true meaning of fatigue. I had to slow down, and I eventually had to talk with the CEO about the work demands. Our relationship was open, and he was understanding and caring. I, in turn, felt personally obliged to give that much more in effort.

    I eventually began to telecommute part time, one, two or three days a week, depending on how I felt. At home, I had a computer set up in the same room as my desk. The office area was totally dedicated to my job. I remember sending my son David to the office to pick up or deliver papers and disks. That was a benefit of having teenagers instead of toddlers. Eventually, if I felt energetic or there was something that required my attention, I went in to the office, but my driving was scheduled during low-traffic times.

    When the computer services company was merged into the airline parent company, I was assigned to their corporate headquarters. I began working at home all of the time. My home computer was connected to the airline's dedicated network. My office included my computer, some bookshelves, file cabinets in the closet, and a speaker phone on my desk. I attended meetings by telephone.

    I soon acquired a fax machine to supplement my main methods of communication, the telephone. We didn't have email and there was a lot of passing around hard disks and papers. These were the days before the Internet was available to the general public. The Internet was used by the government, but by few others. It meant plugging and unplugging phone lines, modems and mainframe protocols. Computer capabilities were nothing like they are now. When I "connected" to the airline's network, I had to enter a designated code. I now understand that was probably connecting me to a private section of the Internet, but I had not heard that term before.

    In the mid-1990s, I retired due to disability, years earlier than I had planned to retire. After diagnosis, most MSers have to decide who to tell and what to say. I missed that personal turmoil because my symptoms and mobility problems were known to my coworkers. I have heard horror stories after the "secret" was revealed, but I was subject to few. My coworkers were always kind and considerate.

    I would say the affects of MS on my employment were gradual. When the MS started affecting me so that I had to request accommodations, I was fortunate that the company allowed my unique requests. I had an opportunity to learn about telecommuting before most people heard that word.

    I am now able to present a case to a company showing the benefits for both the company and the person with disabilities.

    Telecommuting is fast becoming popular to both employers and employees. It is used by many rather than limited to people with disabilities. Thanks to the increase in computer capabilities and access to those computers, there are many jobs that can be successfully completed remotely. It effectively diminishes the line between people who are fully able-bodied and those who have some type of disability.
    • For the company, it allows everyone to be productive without having to provide office space or disability accommodations.
    • For the community, telecommuting reduces traffic problems and pollution.
    • For the worker, it allows a full working day without the long commute, saving time and money on gas and work-wardrobes.
    Though there are many other details, it is clear telecommuting is beneficial for all who can participate. Telecommuting helped add several years to my career, even though MS made me retire early.

    Notes and Links:
    Employee Benefits from Telecommuting
    Status of Telecommuting to the Government
Published On: March 24, 2010