Working with Epilepsy

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Barriers

As much as I would like to say discrimination does not exist; it does. It is part of human nature to analyze and judge effectively, but it is not part of human nature to ignorance as a form of judgement.

Epilepsy can be scary. It is scares employers, teachers, friends, family, coworkers, and those who bare the diagnosis themselves. It is the unknown of when the next seizure will strike or the unknown of what the root cause is. It is the unknown of how the future will forever be impacted.

There are discrimination laws put into place by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Epilepsy does fall under the protection of the ADA; but some places can find loopholes. When they find these loopholes they do not bother to ever ask the person “how does this effect you? How does this effect your work?” They start making assumptions, then base decisions upon these assumptions. My main goal today is to help those who may be new to epilepsy or do not know where they stand under the ADA when it comes to employment.


The Interview

Working with Epilepsy can be a challenge. First question that tends to pop into one’s mind is “am I allowed to work? Should I work?” While we would love to answer that question for ourselves, we do still need to seek an expert opinion. Talk to your neurologist and see if you are cleared for work first and foremost. As much as we love to be independent and make our own choices, we need to make sure we are safe and we are able to keep others around us safe. Also, this documentation that you are cleared for work protects you – an employer cannot use the excuse “well I do not think you are fit to work” based on you having seizures when your specialist says otherwise.

Next question most people have is “when do I tell them?” This can get tricky but if you understand your rights under the ADA, it gets a little easier. When you are applying for a job, an employer “may not ask questions about the applicant’s medical condition or require to have a medical examination before it makes a conditional job offer.” What does this mean exactly? They cannot ask you about epilepsy, if you have seizures, frequency seizures, or if you are on prescription drugs during the interview process. They CAN ask you if you have driver’s license or if you can operate machinery and that portion you must answer truthfully. As for anything else, the employer at that point would be crossing boundaries with the ADA. Before accepting a job offer, you still do not have to disclose the fact that you have Epilepsy or a seizure disorder. ADA does not require those with disabilities to voluntarily disclose their disability UNLESS they will need reasonable accommodations during the interview.  Also, an employer cannot ask questions about your Epilepsy if you have voluntarily disclosed it. They cannot as about treatment either, but the employer CAN ask if you need an accommodation.


After the Job Offer

“What if I start working and realize it is too much and did not request accommodations?” You may request reasonable accommodation after becoming an employee as long as they are made aware of your condition. Now once you have accepted the job offer, they may ask you questions about your Epilepsy,  but since you now have the job, if any repercussions occur it will fall under discrimination. Although, it will not be considered discrimination if you cannot perform the job you were hired to do due to you condition or pose as a direct threat to health or safety of self or others that cannot be reduced or eliminated through accommodations. Employers may not disclose anything about your medical condition or accommodations to other employees either, as this is a breach of confidentiality.

“What exactly are reasonable accommodations?” Some accommodations listed may include: adjustments to work schedules, extra breaks, checklist to assist in remembering tasks, permission to brings a service animal to work, place to rest after a seizure, reassignment to a vacant position if the employee can no longer perform the original job, and so on. Do know than an employer may request a documentation stating that the employee has epilepsy and that accommodations need to be made. Also note that an employer does not have to provide these accommodations if doing so will cause hardship to the company (difficult to do or expensive). Now things here can become grey and it is a fine line to walk upon. If the employer decides it cannot meet the accommodation, they may choose an easier or less costly accommodation as long as the employee needs are met.


My Experience

I have not let Epilepsy stop me from working as my Epilepsy is also not severe enough to keep me out of work. Everyone will have a different experience with Epilepsy and the workplace due to severity, frequency, and type of seizures – but we all still consider the same questions of when to tell. For me personally, I do not require accommodations for work. Do I qualify? Yes. But I do not feel my job is impaired by my condition. Due to this, I decided to withhold the fact I have Epilepsy upon the interview and pre-empolyment process. Once I was officially offered the job and had agreed to take the job, I told health services when I went for my health screening. They asked if I needed accommodations, I said no and I have not heard anything about it since. They were really nice about everything and appreciated the fact that I told them. Since it is on my file, in the event that I ever needed accommodations, I would be able to have them. Ironically enough where I go for my neurologist and where I work is in the same place and under the same company. So if anything was to ever happen, everything possibly needed is already there.

A rule of thumb that I use is if they do not ask, they do not need to know unless it is putting someone else or myself in direct harm. I always tell employers after accepting an offer due to the event if, by chance, I had a seizure at work, they would not panic (this has not happened yet thankfully). I have been dealing with this condition for 5 years so I have a good handle on how this will effect me and my neurologist also has confidence in my knowledge of my condition.

It can be scary to tell you employer, as not everyone will be kind. Telling coworkers is another issue. I have told coworkers in the past and have gotten ridiculed over it so it takes me a while before I find someone I can tell. It is good to have at least one person who knows that works with you, if not then wear a medical ID bracelet/necklace as a precautionary measure. Although, have confidence in knowing you ARE protected and do not be afraid to fight for your rights. You define Epilepsy.


All information was gathered from the following sites, also feel free to visit them to learn more

←For those in the U.K. seeking information→

You may also call the Epilepsy Foundation’s Toll-free Helpline and ask any questions at:

1-800-332-1000
(en Español 1-866-748-8008)

Calls are answered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Help!

Do not be afraid to ask for help

Help – a simple four letter word that can grab the attention of almost everyone, yet so many of us are afraid to use it. For myself, I am one of those people. When you get first diagnosed with a condition, in my case Epilepsy, you notice people will start to treat you differently and act different around you. You are more carefully watched and more restricted. While we know it is in good faith, we miss our independence and being our own person. For myself, this made me resent the word “help.” Granted, I did and, to a point, still do need it. For me personally, has been very hard for me to accept. But I did. I asked and I do not regret it.


What type of help is available?

There are many sources of help for people with neurological issues. There are government funded programs, programs by state and country, support groups, help lines, help at school, aid if your condition does not allow you to work, counselors, and so on. Follow the link below to a little directory I made where you can find resources in your area for Epilepsy.


What type of help did you need?

While it may be debatable if I should be working at this current moment according to some people and questionable that I should even be in school this semester. I am in school and I will be going back to work this week – all cleared by my neurologist. Some people will look at me and ask me why I would need help if I am functioning as normal. While yes, I am functioning normally in one sense – my brain is still not up to par. Reading takes a long time, comprehending things becomes time consuming, and information recall/memory recall is still a struggle. Now, what if I am taking a test that is timed (which all of my exams and test are) and I do not finish because my brain is in slow-motion due to medication I HAVE to take in order to prevent seizures from occurring? Is it fair to penalize someone over that – especially when it is not their fault? Of course not! This is the type of help I need. It is still considered help and is still something I had to come to terms with. I did not want to feel different or feel like I cannot handle my workload but the truth is; it is simply not my fault. Neither is it yours. And only now, have I came to terms with this. I have been battling this feeling since 2011 and there is not a thing wrong with asking for help.


What if I need help in school?

Do you think your condition or medication is effecting you and your ability to learn? A good place to start is talking to your primary care physician or specialist. They will need to write you a note with the following information: a statement of condition or diagnosis from a licensed professional, description of how the condition was diagnosed and how it may/typically progresses, some places may require a description of the diagnostic criteria and what tests were done in order to diagnose you, information on how the condition limits your functioning by severity and frequency, your current treatment plan, and the recommendations for reasonable accommodations and an explanation of the need for specific accommodations. This letter will then go to your disability office and they will tell you what resources are available. Note that this is not just for people with Epilepsy, but anyone who may need a reasonable accommodation.


Wait, what is a reasonable accommodation?

ada

Reasonable accommodations fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and protects those with disabilities against discrimination whether it is in school or in the work place. A reasonable accommodation is “any changes in the work environment (or in the way things are usually done) to help a person with a disability” (https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/disability.cfm). It may be requested orally or in writing at any given time (tip: Schools really appreciate this at the beginning of the semester as soon as possible so they can make the accommodations. Sometimes this cannot be helped). Although, there is a loophole for employers; they can deny the accommodation if “doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense to the employer.” This goes by the size of the company and their finances.

A reasonable accommodation may be wheelchair access, extra time on exams, color-coded filing system, flexible work schedule, telecommunication devices, bigger fonts, and so on. It never hurts to ask an employer or school if they can make accommodations so you can perform to your true potential. If you have further questions about if you qualify or want more information on the topic, check out the following links:

←For those from the UK→


Even if you do not need these services now, you never know what the future will hold. It is always good to be informed in case you or a loved one needs an advocate. No one can speak better for you than yourself. But do not worry, there is help along the way