Working & RA: Disability Employment Awareness Month
HealthCentral communities have marked several awareness events throughout October - domestic violence, breast cancer, mental health and World Arthritis Day. October is also Disability Employment Awareness Month and it is very relevant to people living with rheumatoid arthritis. RA comes with fluctuating energy and pain levels and can limit your mobility. Your work can be affected, but with some help, there are ways to keep you working.
As a person with RA, you are protected at work under the Americans with Disabilities Act. That means you are legally entitled to accommodations at work, ways of making the tasks easier on your body. Accommodations focus on the process of doing your work, changing that to enable you to do the job. Examples of accommodations are flexible work hours, working from home, ergonomic assessments of your workstation and adaptive technology, such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking (voice recognition software). The Job Accommodation Network has a page on accommodation ideas for arthritis that lists many more possibilities.
Working with a chronic illness can require extra creativity and awareness of how your needs affect your work, both from you and your employer. Our Beginner's Guide to Working with RA gets the conversation started about what you might face at work. If your RA gets really vocal, you may need to talk to your employer about some time off for some more extensive accommodations. When RA affects your ability to work is a hard conversation, but sometimes it can help you work better in the long run.
Sometimes, having RA means you need to rethink the job you do, perhaps consider switching careers to something that is less physical. This can feel awful, like a failure, even and you'll need to work through that. However, it can also be an opportunity to pursue a dream that you perhaps thought impractical, to think outside the box and be a nudge to shooting for the moon.
One way of switching careers is to go back to school for a degree or a different kind of training. As a student with a chronic illness, you also protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and your first step should be the school's office for students with disabilities. They can help you with accommodations such as notetakers, longer times for tests and so on. Another way to switch careers is to take a step back, reassess your skills and figure out how to invent your own job. Gayle Backstrom's book I'd Rather Be Working is a terrific source of information about working with a chronic illness and how to re-imagine yourself in the workforce.
Then there are the times where we have to face it. We can't work. Maybe we need some temporary time off and that's where the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) can be helpful. Our Contributor V wrote a great post about how FMLA is helping her work and get the rest of her body needs. And sometimes, there's nothing for it. We have to face the fact that we can't work anymore at all and that's where social insurance for disability (SSD) enters the picture.
You can find a starter kit to SSD on Social Security Online, but I also strongly recommend that you do a lot of other research, as well. It is quite common to be rejected on the first try and the more you know, the more you decrease the risk of getting rejected. Our Beginner's Guide to SSD takes you through the basics and includes links to important resources that can help you navigate through the process. Our Chronic Pain site also has a terrific post on SSD. There's a great site called Disability Secrets that gives you all sorts of helpful information on how to apply and how to get an advocate involved in helping you.
It is commonly acknowledged that SSD isn't a lot of money and you are allowed to make a certain amount without losing your benefits. Talk to your worker about how much this is and then triple check with other staff to make sure you have the right number - it's not always terribly clear and you don't want to lose your benefits due to a mistake. What you know how much you can make, take another look at Gayle Backstrom's book for ideas on how to make yourself marketable or consider going back to school.
We all like to be productive. RA doesn't have to stop you from finding meaningful activities and participating, just that you need to find different ways of getting there.