My multiple sclerosis (MS) was diagnosed 40 years ago in August. I never kept my MS a secret, but I didn’t go around advertising it, either. I’ll bet, for the first 20 years or so, very few people at work knew I lived with the disease.
When my MS stuck, I was working as the news director of a large radio station in a major U.S. city. I managed about 50 people and, because I didn’t know what turns the disease might take, I thought I should be upfront with everyone. I told them I didn’t expect MS to impact me right away, and that it shouldn’t affect the newsroom. I think I said something like, “It’s not a big thing.”
Four months later, I was fired. I’ll probably never know if it was because of the quality of my work or my MS.
Fortunately, a friend in the news business who was a manager at an international news organization (who knew I had MS) hired me to work in his newsroom. I’m lucky. That company saw me as an asset, not as a liability or a medical time bomb. I worked there full time for a little over 32 years until I retired.
National Disability Awareness Month
I’m sharing this information because October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). And many people with MS are not as lucky as I am. Despite 75 years of observing NDEAM this month, and despite 30 years of Americans living and working under the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act, many of us — far too many — still have problems being hired or staying employed.
Oh, the government is talkin’ the talk. The U.S. Labor Department has social media tools, a suggested news release, and several other public relations items available on its website. It has even created a slideshow with 31 ideas for celebrating NDEA Month. Day No. 1 is “put up an NDEAM poster.” Day No. 16 is “solicit an NDEAM proclamation.” (The White House has issued one). But is it walkin’ the walk?
I regularly see complaints and concerns on social media groups from people whose employers won’t give them simple accommodations (sometimes it’s as simple as a parking spot near the entrance) or who are fired shortly after they disclose their disability or who can’t find a job because of their disability. The government proclamations and public relations just aren’t doing enough.
A place to go for workplace disability help
An organization that seems to do a very good job of helping people in the workplace is the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) at West Virginia University. It’s one-stop shopping for a ton of useful information about workplace accommodations and disability employment issues. The JAN website has a large library of accommodation articles and publications plus a robust search engine. Best of all, JAN offers one-on-one guidance to both workers and employers via phone or internet. And all of this is free!
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