Understanding Childhood MS
Medication-Related Fatigue and Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple Sclerosis, Employment, and the ADA

Multiple Sclerosis: How to Deal with Attitudes (Yours and Others’)

Sometimes attitudes — your own or other people’s — can get in the way of your job even more than your multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms do. For example, many people mistakenly assume that anyone with a chronic illness or disability can’t be a productive employee or a valuable member of the team. Fortunately, attitudes can be changed with a little patience, some good information, and effective communication.

First, deal with your own attitudes about MS

Taking a look at how you think about MS and disability in general is a good idea because negative attitudes can trip you up as easily as weakness, stiffness, or any other physical MS symptom can.

For example, maybe you’ve always thought that a person with MS couldn’t or shouldn’t work; that anyone who used a mobility aid wasn’t very smart; that your job could only be done one way; or that no one at your workplace would ever understand your situation. In other words, your attitudes may interfere more with your creativity and productivity at work than your MS does.

If your knee-jerk response to managing your MS symptoms at work tends to be a negative one — “It’ll never work” or “It’s not worth the effort” — you may want to think about a little attitude tune-up.

Try to get comfortable with the idea of doing things differently, because the more flexible and creative you can be, the more easily you’ll be able to come up with strategies to work around whatever physical or cognitive challenges you have. After you have these workarounds sorted out for yourself, you’ll be ready to confidently pitch your ideas to your boss and co-workers.

If you’re more of a rose-colored-glasses type, you may have a tendency to plow ahead without thinking things through. Even though cockeyed optimism can be a wonderful thing, being informed and cautious is also helpful where employment is concerned so that the choices you make are in your own best interest. Slow down just enough to get your ducks in a row by

  • Giving some careful thought to how your MS may impact your productivity at work — now or down the road. The situation generally works out a lot better if you can identify and address the problems you’re having before your boss does it for you.

  • Getting familiar with the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) so you know what protections the law provides — and doesn’t provide.

  • Thinking carefully through your disclosure decisions. These decisions can have long-lasting consequences because once the information about your MS is out there, you can’t take it back.

Next, tackle other people’s attitudes about MS

After you’ve done your own attitude check, you’re ready to deal with whatever other people may be thinking.

Your boss, for example, may have known someone with MS who became severely disabled. He may assume that anyone with MS will have the same problems and will therefore be a big liability on the job. Or, he may worry that your MS will drive up the company’s insurance rates.

Your colleagues may assume that you won’t be able to hold your own weight, which could mean extra work for them. People tend to carry around a lot of misconceptions and prejudices, so your job will be to help folks understand more about your MS.

And if you decide you’re ready to disclose your MS, you may want to give your boss and colleagues a copy of the National MS Society brochure, Information for Employers. The Society’s general information brochures are also great for giving people background info about the disease.

You’ll be giving the people in your workplace a helpful attitude check when you work around your MS symptoms to remain a productive employee.

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