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RA and Workplace Accommodations

Living and working with rheumatoid arthritis can be a real challenge. Luckily, the Americans with Disabilities Act (or ADA for short) requires most employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to qualified disabled individuals. Reasonable accommodations are modifications to a job, employment practice or process, or a work environment to make it possible for you to successfully fulfill the duties of your job. (For general tips about requesting workplace accommodations, see Workplace Accommodations Under the Americans With Disabilities Act)

Since the ADA places the initial burden on the worker to inform his or her employer about the need for an accommodation, you’ll want to prepare before speaking with your boss. First, it is important to consider exactly how your rheumatoid arthritis makes it more difficult for you to do your job. Which specific tasks are most problematic? Does hand or wrist pain make it difficult for you to use a computer? Is it challenging for you to sit, stand, or walk for long periods? Do you have trouble maintaining your stamina during the workday due to fatigue? It’s important to remember that not everyone with rheumatoid arthritis will experience the same limitations – and the degree of the limitation will also vary.

Once you pinpoint the specific issues that are most problematic for you, it’s time to start brainstorming suggestions for improvements. What types of accommodations would best be able to reduce or eliminate your issues? Here are some general suggestions that may be useful for individuals living with rheumatoid arthritis to request.

Facility:

  • Nearby parking
  • Accessible entrance or automatic doors
  • First floor workstation or access to an elevator
  • Accessible restrooms and break rooms

Workstation:

  • Ergonomic workstation design – keyboard, mouse, chair, etc.
  • Adjustable sit/stand workstations
  • Cushions or heating pads
  • Stand/lean stools
  • Book holders and page turners
  • Arm supports
  • Writing aids
  • Grip aids
  • Replacing small switches with cushioned knobs
  • Speech recognition software or option to dictate to clerical staff
  • Space heaters or added insulation to control temperature
  • Location closer to restroom, office equipment used regularly, or break room

Work Day:

  • Reassign or reallocate marginal duties
  • Reduce physical exertion required or provide mobility aids
  • Reduce workplace stress
  • Allow longer breaks or schedule additional periodic rest breaks
  • Flexible work schedule
  • Flexible use of leave time
  • Work from home options
  • Sensitivity training for coworkers
  • Telephone calls during work hours to doctors or other support
  • Shorter staff meetings

Make sure to identify which issues – and which solutions – you feel are most important to address before making an appointment to speak with your boss! For help brainstorming about your specific health/job situation, contact the Job Accommodation Network – a free, confidential, and personalized service provided by the U.S. Department of Labor.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • QTPie
    10 months ago

    I’m so sorry you had to go through that. Your recovery is enough by itself. I too am recovering from a second knee replacement (Oct for me) and find recovery slow and painful. Luckily my employer allows me a flexible schedule. Best of Luck

  • Janice Crawford
    10 months ago

    I was let go from my job as a nurse because of time off from work. I’ve had several knee replacement surgeries. They claimed I was not able to do my job anymore.
    They could not understand the pain I was having and the slow process of getting better after surgery.
    I could not get them to understand my issues….they thought my pain was in my head.
    I also used the elevator and was reprimanded…the elevators were for patients, not employees.
    This all happened in September.
    My ortho doctor was instrumental in helping get on SSDI. I don’t get much money, but, anything is better than nothing.

  • Anita
    4 years ago

    Working with RA can indeed be a trial. One of the first things the doctor said to me upon my diagnosis at age 16 was “I hope you’re planning to go to college.” I was already on that path, so it wasn’t a big deal to me, but I can really feel for those who had other, more physical, careers planned. My diagnosis was early enough for me to plan ahead somewhat, so I didn’t get blindsided like those who were introduced to the “joys” of RA later in life.

    As far as accommodations go, I’ve been lucky to be in a career (software engineering) that allows for great flexibility. Writing software usually can be done anywhere and is less dependent on being present during the usual 8-5 workday. In addition, most places now allow for some working from home, like on bad weather days, which is great for days when the RA is especially bad.

    I work primarily as a contractor, so I am able to avoid the hiring concerns related to health insurance, since I maintain my own through my own business (even though I usually use staffing/temp firms as employer of record). Companies may be less likely to want to invest in any large-scale accommodations for a contract/temp worker, but most of what I need is simple, like elevators and a comfortable chair. I haven’t run into too many problems in my 23 years of contracting.

    I just wrapped up 2 contracts that were entirely remote/telecommuting and I see more and more like that every day. The technology has improved so much that companies are much more comfortable with having workers who are not on-site. It’s a great way to work with RA. I can stretch out on a comfy sofa with my laptop and rest any achy joints rather than struggle painfully through a day at the office.

  • Mariah Z. Leach moderator author
    4 years ago

    Hi Anita~

    Thanks for sharing your story and perspective – I’m so glad to hear that you found something that works so well for you!!

    Best of luck to you!

    ~Mariah~

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