Epilepsy and Job Accommodations
Author: Wendy Taormina-Weiss : Contact: Disabled World
Published: 2012-02-15 : (Rev. 2014-10-20)
People with epilepsy will nearly always be found to experience neurological impairments which substantially limit major life activities including employment.
An individualized assessment of nearly every person who experiences epilepsy will find them being defined as a, person with a disability, under the ADA according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
A brain disorder in which a person has repeated seizures (convulsions) over time. Seizures are episodes of disturbed brain activity that cause changes in attention or behavior. There are different types of epilepsy and seizures. Epilepsy drugs are prescribed to control seizures, and rarely surgery is necessary if medications are ineffective.
In America, job accommodations and disability often times begin with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). An interesting fact about the ADA is that it does not have a listing of medical conditions that constitute forms of disabilities. The ADA instead presents a more general definition of disability, one that every person has to meet on an individual basis. The ADA considers a person to be a person with a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of their major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or if they are regarded by others as having such an impairment.
An individualized assessment of nearly every person who experiences epilepsy will find them being defined as a, 'person with a disability,' under the ADA according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Due to the nature of epilepsy, people with this form of disability will nearly always be found to experience neurological impairments which substantially limit major life activities.
Accommodation of Employees with Epilepsy
People who experience epilepsy might experience some limitations associated with the form of disability; however, they rarely experience every one of the limitations. The degrees of limitations people with epilepsy experience also vary, and not every person with epilepsy will require accommodations in order to perform their job duties. Many people with epilepsy may only require a very few accommodations. Some of the questions an employer might consider include:
- Are there any limitations the employee with epilepsy experiences
- In what ways do the limitations affect the employee and their job performance
- What particular job tasks are problematic due to the limitations
- What accommodations can either reduce or eliminate the problems
- Is every possible type of resource being used to determine potential accommodations
- Can the employee with epilepsy provide information regarding potential accommodation solutions
After accommodations for an employee with epilepsy are in place, meetings might take place in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations that have been provided for them. The meetings may also provide the opportunity to determine if any additional accommodations are needed. Human resources and members of personnel departments, supervisors and co-workers might benefit from training, education, or disability awareness in regards to epilepsy.
Accommodation Ideas for Employees with Epilepsy
The array of ideas for accommodating employees with epilepsy involves various areas related to the forms of impairments they experience. These areas include Time and Stress Management, Memory, Motor Impairments such as Driving, Balancing or Climbing, Fatigue, Safety, Sensory Impairment, and other forms of accommodations. Many of the accommodations are easily achieved.
Accommodations Ideas Related to Cognitive Impairments Associated with Epilepsy
People with epilepsy might experience difficulties with managing time, something that may affect their ability to complete their assigned tasks within specified time frames. The impairment may also make it difficult for the employee to prepare for, or start, some of their work duties. Accommodations related to this particular impairment may include:
- Setting a timer for the employee to make an alarm
- Dividing large assignments into several smaller tasks
- Providing the employee with a check list of assignments
- Using a wall calendar in order to emphasize due dates associated with duties
- Supplying the employee with an electronic or hand-held organizer, training them how to use it
People with epilepsy may experience seizures if stress is not managed appropriately. Situations that create stress may vary among people with epilepsy, although these situations can involve unrealistic time frames, heavy workloads, conflict among co-workers, or shortened deadlines. Accommodations related to stress management may include:
- Modification of the employee's work schedule
- Providing the employee with sensitivity training
- Referring the employee to an employee assistance program
- Providing the employee with positive reinforcement and praise
- Permitting the employee to make phone calls to doctors or others for support
Epilepsy and Memory
People who experience epilepsy might also experience memory deficits which have the potential to affect their ability to complete tasks, recall daily actions or activities, or remember job duties. Memory deficits may be due to the side-effects of medications, or from recent seizure activity. Accommodations for an employee who experiences these particular deficits might include:
- Label items at the employee's desk
- Offer the employee training refreshers
- Make use of voice recordings of verbal instructions
- Use door and cubicle name markers, as well as name tags
- Use a chart to describe the steps required to complete complicated tasks
- Provide the employee with a building directory, or an employee directory
- Safely and securely maintain paper lists of vital information like passwords
- Provide the employee pictorial or written instructions, or prompt them with verbal cues
- Use auto-dial phone features so the employee can quickly connect to commonly used numbers
People who experience epilepsy might also have restrictions related to driving vehicles. Different states in America have various laws related to the amount of time that must have passed after a person with epilepsy's last seizure before they are permitted to drive again. The person must be seizure-free for a set period of time before they are allowed to drive a vehicle again. Accommodation of employees with epilepsy who experience this limitation may include:
- Allowing, 'tele-work,' or work from the employee's home
- Adjusting the employee's schedule so they may use public transportation
- Pairing the employee with a co-worker who can drive to events or meetings
- Transferring the employee to a position where driving is not an essential job function
- Assisting the employee to carpool with co-workers for transportation to and from work
Balancing or Climbing
People with epilepsy may experience difficulties with balancing or climbing. Medications to control seizures can have side-effects including dizziness, something that places a person with epilepsy at risk of falling in relation to these activities while they adjust to the medications. A head injury may also further affect the employee's disability. Accommodations in relation to these impairments can include:
- Use of fall protection
- Provision of eye protection
- Provision of head protection
- Installation of machine guarding
- Adding padded edging to corners and edges
- Use of rolling safety ladders with handrails and locking casters
- Cushioning a potential fall through use of rubber matting on floors
The medications used to control seizure activity in people who experience epilepsy may cause them to experience fatigue as they adjust to them. People with epilepsy who have experienced recent seizure activity may also experience fatigue. Accommodations for employees with epilepsy in regards to fatigue may include:
- Use of anti-fatigue matting on floors
- Provision of flexible starting or end times
- Adjustment of the employee's work week
- Provision of a private or secure rest area during the employee's breaks
Safety in the Workplace
Ensuring safety in the workplace in relation to employees with epilepsy may involve a number of things. Most of these accommodations are easily accomplished and cost little to nothing and benefit other employees as well. These accommodations can include:
- Keeping aisles clear of clutter
- Knowing when and when not to call 911
- Provision of a quick and unobstructed exit
- Designation of a person to respond to emergencies
- Posting clearly marked directions for fire doors, exits and so forth
- Assisting the employee to discontinue activities involving climbing, driving, and carrying
- Consulting the employee's plan of action in order to determine methods of responding or reacting should they experience a seizure while on the job
People with epilepsy might experience a headache or a seizure due to sensitivity to light, something that can be aggravated by light sources that include fluorescent lighting and computer screens. Rapidly flashing lighting or strobe lights can also be an issue. Accommodations related to photosensitivity may include:
- Use of monitor glare guards
- Provision of alternate lighting sources
- Use of natural lighting sources instead of electric lighting
- Replacement of fluorescent lighting with full-spectrum lighting
- Use of flicker-free monitors such as flat screens or LCD displays
- Permitting frequent breaks from tasks that involve the use of computers
Sight, Hearing, and Communication
An employee with epilepsy, either during or after a seizure, may temporarily experience limitations related to their ability to hear, see, or speak. These limitations may not last very long, or they may persist for a period of time. Accommodations related to sight, hearing, and communication may include:
- Use of alert systems to send messages
- Provision of 2-way radios with texting capabilities
- Use of paging systems to communicate with co-workers
- Giving the employee time to recuperate after they experience a seizure
- Use of, 'PECS,' or Picture Exchange Communication System to communicate
- Identification of hand signals or other universal signals the employee may use in order to communicate with others
Employees with Epilepsy and Additional Accommodations
Seizure activity has the potential to affect an employee's attendance at work. If at all possible, permit the employee to stay on the job after they experience a seizure. Give them a flexible work schedule, and count any absences due to seizures as a single occurrence. Provide the employee with leave as they adjust to medications used to control seizures. Allow the employee to work a straight shift instead of rotating ones.
An employee with epilepsy, either during or after a seizure, may present behaviors that include crying, spitting, urinating, or drooling. Because of this, the employee might need some time after experiencing a seizure to pursue activities related to daily living such as changing their clothes, or personal grooming.
Give the employee the time they need to change their clothes at work. Provide them with a private space where they can regain their composure and pursue the tasks of caring for themselves. It is also important to provide sensitivity and disability awareness training to the employee's co-workers.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted to prohibit disability-based discrimination. Title I of the Act prohibits employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities and applies to private employers with 15 or more employees.
Women's Health - Epilepsy - www.womenshealth.gov/illnesses-disabilities/types-illnesses-disabilities/epilepsy.cfm
Questions and Answers about Epilepsy in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act - The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the employment provisions of the ADA. This document explains how the ADA might apply to job applicants and employees with epilepsy - www.eeoc.gov/facts/epilepsy.html
- 1 - Epilepsy Associated with Brain Volume and Thickness Differences : University College London (2018/01/23)
- 2 - Epileptic Seizures and Depression May Share Common Genetic Cause : Rutgers University (2018/01/14)
- 3 - 8 New Epilepsy Genes Discoverered by Researchers : University of Montreal (2017/11/10)
- 4 - Genetic Testing in Epilepsy : Baylor College of Medicine (2011/06/23)
- 5 - Master Switch for Adult Epilepsy Found : University of California, Irvine (2011/06/28)
- 6 - New Guideline on Uncommon Risk of Death in Epilepsy - Seizure Control May Reduce Risk : American Academy of Neurology (2017/04/26)
- 7 - Epilepsy: Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome : Disabled World (2015/09/19)
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