It wasn’t supposed to come to this: Me, asking for a workplace accommodation because of my Multiple Sclerosis.
I was invincible for more than 17 years as the assistant director of publications at Central Michigan University. I even had an office on the second floor and never once flinched at repeatedly climbing two flights of stairs countless times each day to interact with my first-floor colleagues.
Sure, the MS-induced numbness in my feet slowed my steps from time to time, and the similar lack of feeling in my fingers made typing my stories cumbersome every now and then. But MS wasn’t going to stand in my way of maintaining a full-time job and serving my team well.
I never expected that MS would outright block and push me back from effectively doing my job.
In fairness, my responsibilities shifted last summer when my workplace realigned and I became an assistant director of communications. This welcomed opportunity also meant more interviewing, story writing, copy editing and meeting multiple daily deadlines.
These increased responsibilities sparked more stress, which irritated my MS symptoms of numbness and fatigue, which further slowed my typing and set me further behind on my deadlines, which made the numbness worse, and, well, I think you see the never-ending spiral of worsening workplace productivity.
I knew I could do my job, I just needed something to help me with my typing. Enter Dragon NaturallySpeaking, the voice-recognition software that I knew helped Jennifer when she was pursuing her master’s degree at CMU. I could speak my words quicker than my clumsy fingers could type. This would help me complete my tasks on time, thereby reducing stress and decreasing the MS-induced numbness, and all would be right with the world.
A simple workplace accommodation provided through the Americans with Disabilities Act was all I needed to request of my supervisor and employer.
Suddenly it was me, not my MS, that stood in my way of making this happen. After all, I wasn’t disabled, right? I mean, I’m working full time. I can climb the stairs, park anywhere I want to and quickly walk across campus without any sort of assistance. Disabled? Yeah, right.
Yeah. Right. I wasn’t getting my work done as quickly as I needed to, and yes, the MS was slowing me down.
At first, the fighter in me said I was caving in when I finally confessed to my supervisor, Heather, that I needed voice-recognition software to help me with my typing. I feared asking for such an accommodation was like pushing me down a slippery slope of requesting more and more workplace accommodations.
I soon realized that such an adaption wasn’t like a slippery slope, it’s more like a ski lift that is helping me to quickly ascend to the top of the mountains I face at work everyday. I truly think I am cranking out emails, stories and communication plans faster than I did even before MS entered my life. My productivity is up, stress is down and numbness is under control. I only wish I had said something about needing an accommodation sooner, because my supervisor and CMU were so supportive in getting me what I needed.
And now they truly see what I’m saying.