MS Unfiltered: Striking the balance at work

Lorraine was diagnosed with MS almost four years ago, but still finds it difficult to make her colleagues aware of the reasonable adjustments she needs at work. For MS Awareness Week, she shares why.

I was diagnosed in 2020, when we were also going through the pandemic. I’d been having symptoms for a while, like faded colours and blurring in my vision, but opticians just kept telling me it was dry eye or blocked tear ducts. I finally managed to see someone in August 2020 who referred me to the ophthalmologist. After that, I was referred for an urgent MRI and that’s when I got diagnosed. I was in total shock.

My MS mostly affects my vision – I’ve lost 25% of vision in my left eye. Colours are mixed up, things are kind of faded. I can’t always tell how far away cars are or how fast they’re moving, so it can be scary moving around.

My MS and work

I work in an office and I hide my MS quite a lot. I wouldn’t ask for help with anything before. Now, I’ve got accessibility software to help. But even two or three years on from first having it installed, I want to hide the features so other people can’t see that I have issues with my vision.

If I’m sharing the screen, I’ll turn off the features that help me, so other people can’t see them. When I do that, it can be more difficult to present. I have to prepare more in advance.

I don’t want to stand out. I know I already do, because I have an allocated desk at work. And if I go along to a team meeting, I take my laptop with me so that my manager can share the content with me beforehand and I can view it on my screen. I think people must wonder why I have my laptop – why am I so different?

Letting people know

When I join a new team, I have to decide when to tell them that I’ve got vision issues and that I would like them to share documents before meetings if possible. And I think if I leave it too late to tell them, they’ll wonder why I didn’t say months ago. I find striking the balance difficult. I worry that I’m being awkward when I’m really just asking for a reasonable adjustment. I also don’t like explaining why I need these things, because I want to be seen the same as other people.

I found asking for reasonable adjustments from my manager emotional. It took some time to get it to the place where it was right for me, but having a good relationship with my manager makes such a difference. He lets me use him as a guinea pig – checking the screen share settings using his screen!

Find out more about reasonable adjustments your manager must make

I think it would help if people were more educated about MS. Things have definitely evolved in the last four years – I hope it continues, and people have more and more information about different conditions.