Living with an invisible chronic condition can sometimes make you feel alone, and it can often make the workplace seem like a complicated environment. But you don’t need to feel alone or powerless—and you certainly don’t have to feel guilty.
You have rights and, just as important, resources available to you that will help you get the accommodations you need at work. The first is probably the most important, and it’s so simple that we sometimes don’t even think of it. Talk to your employer about what you need. When there is a mutual understanding between the employer and employee, the process will inevitably be smoother.
You may wonder, “How do I tell my employer that I’m having a flare-up?” You might even start to think, “Is this too much to ask for? Should I just suck it up?” The answers are no, it’s not, and no, you shouldn’t. Being forthright with your needs while also understanding your employer’s viewpoint is important when requesting accommodations. Take the time to educate your employer about your condition—for example, flare-ups can be common with many chronic conditions, such as Celiac disease, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and many more. If you can inform your employer when you have early signs of a flare-up, it may give her time to help make appropriate accommodations for you.
If you need accommodations, don’t be afraid to ask. Your employer ultimately wants you to be productive, so ask for whatever you may need. This could be frequent breaks or even asking to work one day from home per week to maximize your productivity.
You could also request a noise-free office space or one near a bathroom. Asking for accommodations is a most practical first step, and describing in appropriate detail may go even further in creating an empathetic relationship between you and your boss. A good place to start is to visit the human resources department.
Another potential resource may be vocational rehabilitation (VR). These state-run, federally funded programs offer a way for people with mental and physical disabilities to get the help they need to become more independent and to go back to work. They can also be a good resource to learn more about your rights and how to navigate your specific desired workplace. Vocational rehabilitation eligibility varies by state, so check with your state’s program to see if you qualify.
Look into an ABLE account. Employment laws are changing, and many states introduced the ABLE Act, which you may be eligible for if you were diagnosed with your disability before 26 years old. ABLE Accounts will help you keep a larger amount of savings and not affect your other public benefits. Learn more about the ABLE Accounts at ablenrc.org.
Depending on the severity of your condition, you may need to consider Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the federal income supplement program designed to help people with disabilities who have little or no income. Workplace disclosure is ultimately a personal decision. Unfortunately, not all employers will be responsive, but doing your part to communicate is key to building a long-term relationship.
Ultimately, have confidence in dealing with your condition and know that it can bring a greater understanding and inclusivity to the workplace. Having a chronic disease certainly can be an extra barrier, but it can also empower your colleagues to understand the effects of a chronic disease—and that’s something that adds value to the workplace.
If you are looking for disability-friendly workplaces, check out the Disability Equality Index. The DEI has a list of best places to work for people with disabilities. If you are looking for employment that meets your needs, keep searching! With patience, you can find the place that is best for you and your own needs.