Are you a working Joe with fibro?
Then I’ve got good news for you: the accommodations needed to make people with Fibro more comfortable and productive are inexpensive and easy to implement.
WHEN THINKING ABOUT JOB ACCOMMODATIONS, ASK YOURSELF A FEW QUESTIONS:
- What limitations am I experiencing?
- How are those affecting my ability to do my job?
- Are there specific job tasks that are affected?
- Does my employer know about these problems?
- Does my employer know what fibromyalgia is?
An informed and understanding employer may be willing-to implement more accommodations if he understands the disorder. You can help by providing brochures or pamphlets describing the condition and symptoms. After your employer reads through the material, encourage him to ask questions. You might be surprised to find out how perceptive he can be.
Next, address the issue of specific accommodations that can effectively deal with your unique issues. Let’s focus on concentration challenges as an example. Some supportive ideas for concentration issues might include asking for written job instructions, prioritizing job assignments, and providing structure. Some individuals
do well with personal digital assistants (PDAs) and weekly organizers. Some work environments are noisy; if you can work with music or an iPod, this will reduce distractions.
Also ask your employer about flexible work hours and a self paced workload. You can structure your day according to flare-ups and symptoms. Some employers will allow employees to work from home; this may be a viable option to pursue.
You can also ask your employer for close parking, automatic door openers, and workstation alignment to frequently used areas such as restrooms, break rooms, or copiers. Other environmental factors that increase sensitivity are fluorescent lighting, computer monitors, perfume, and machine soot. Using incandescent light bulbs and air purifiers, and instituting a “perfume-free” workplace policy, may be helpful.
For those individuals experiencing fine motor impairment, built-up pens, light pressure pens, larger calculators, or light-touch keyboards may be of help.
Accommodations needed to make workers with Fibro more comfortable and productive are inexpensive and easy to implement.
Temperature variances can be a nuisance and impede your performance. A small fan and a small personal heater will come in handy. Also, it is important to wear layers daily to adapt to all conditions.
A simple workstation analysis completed by a professional, such as an occupational therapist, may be the solution. Establish good ergonomic habits. Consider the placement of keyboard, mouse, and monitor. Your legs should be at a 90-degree angle to the floor, your arms at a 90-degree angle to the keyboard. It is usually recommended to remove armrests to avoid any compression injuries.
For office workers, some useful tools are telephone headsets, a portable angled writing surface, aids such as built-up pens and staplers, anti-glare screens for computers, and document holders and forearm supports for typing. For factory workers, adding a padded floor mat will decrease fatigue, as can a nearby stool so you can sit down periodically; padded gloves will decrease vibration. Ask your employer about job rotation possibilities and break allowances.
Most importantly, all employees should arrange their workstations so they have easy access to everything. Give your body a break, especially if you’re working in the same position for long periods of time. Turn away from your work and walk around. Perform stretches whenever possible to alleviate muscle strain.
Pace yourself. Don’t try to do all tasks at once. Alternate large and small tasks, if possible. For example, do some heavy lifting followed by writing or telephone activities.
Exercise. Don’t underestimate the importance of movement beyond your daily work tasks. If you plan on starting an exercise routine, start slow. Work toward your goal over a month or two, depending on your fitness level. Besides providing numerous benefits to your heart and body, exercise is wonderful for your
mental health, too. Studies suggest that people who exercise have decreased depression and anxiety (Paluska, et.al).
In conclusion, individuals with FM can and do have productive careers. When given proper Fibro-Friendly accommodations, you can work with minimized pain and symptoms. Taking steps to succeed in your job of today can improve your performance tomorrow!
Corynn Feldmann is an occupational therapist working in a not-for-profit hospital in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and the founder of The Fibromyalgia
Clinic, a multidisciplinary clinic to manage fibro. She has facilitated the Friends with Fibro support and self-management group for the last three years.