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Report identifies solutions to keep people with MS at work

Media Release: Global report identifies simple solutions to keep people with MS in the workplace

A report by the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation (MSIF), released today to coincide with World Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Day 2016, shows that a significant number of people living with MS are leaving employment earlier than they need to, and that a range of simple and reasonable workplace adjustments could keep these people in work longer.

The 2016 Global MS Employment Report, based on data from a global survey of more than 12,200 people affected by MS, shows that 43% of people with MS had left employment within three years of diagnosis and that this rose to 70% within 10 years of being diagnosed.

Many of the changes required to enable people living with MS to stay in employment, such as small adaptations in the workplace or access to treatments, are achievable through advocacy and effective communication between employees and employers. The report includes recommendations for employers, policy makers and researchers and encourages people affected by MS to consider telling their employer as soon as possible after diagnosis, so that adjustments can be made promptly.

Wellingtonian Christine O’Sullivan was working for a large organisation leading a team of 15 staff when she was formally diagnosed with MS in 2005. Christine made the decision early on to carry on working and to talk openly about her diagnosis with employers.

“MS became a part of my life, but I didn’t want it to rule my life. I took a proactive approach and decided to speak to a recruitment agency to find a role that would suit my skills and maybe in time give me the flexibility that I might need to keep working,” says Christine.

Christine found a position with Child, Youth and Family and managed the National Caregiver Training Programme for seven years until her role was disestablished in 2013. “My working environment was very adaptable and I had the opportunity to work from home at times,” says Christine. Christine is now actively involved in volunteer and community work and is a member of the Wellington City Council Accessibility Advisory Group. She is organising a sing-along event at the Wellington Central Library on 27 May from 10:30am-1.30pm called ‘Sing for MS’.

There are more than 4,000 people in New Zealand with multiple sclerosis, a disorder of the central nervous system that includes the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. Results of an earlier New Zealand study* showed that MS directly influenced the employment status of New Zealanders living with the diagnosis that were within the 25-64 age bracket, and:

• 54.6% were not working despite 90% having a work history (NZ overall average 22%)

• At least 67% had changed their work status due to the effects of MS, most within the first 4 years of diagnosis.

“We know that some people find it difficult to share their MS diagnosis with their employer - whether out of fear that they will be perceived as less able to cope with their workload, or concern that their employer may perceive their disability in a negative light,” says Multiple Sclerosis New Zealand (MSNZ) President Malcolm Rickerby. “As a result people with MS sometimes leave the workforce well before they need to. If we can overcome stigma like these and people are able to openly share their diagnosis earlier, we can keep people with MS in the workplace for longer. That can only be good for people with MS, their families, and New Zealand as a whole.”

World MS Day is today and activities are taking place around the country to mark the day. This year’s theme for World MS Day is ‘Independence’, celebrating that people with MS can be independent while acknowledging that independence can mean different things to different people.


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