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Understanding your rights

By Cherie Binns
Understanding-your-rights_Horizontal.jpegWe, as a nation, have a heightened sense of “rights” today. Civil rights, voting rights, free speech, the right to bear arms, the right to a living wage and so many more. The purpose of this article is to hone in on your rights as a person living with multiple sclerosis or any other disability. 


You have the right to accommodations so that you can perform your work more efficiently and safely. This means if you have been in a job that you are finding harder and harder to do because of fatigue or visual disturbances or the ability to walk, your employer (if there are at least 20 persons in your company) must, by law, do what is needed to alter your work environment or schedule to accommodate your needs. This may mean flex time so that you can work around rest periods. It may mean making available a place on site where you can go to rest during your shift. It could mean that you might be allowed to work from home

However, if you are not able to meet the requirements of your job description (e.g., a person must be able to lift and transfer up to 50 pounds) you are not entitled to that accommodation. If you have an intellectually-taxing job and there is a cognitive problem creeping in, you may want to request from your doctor a neuropsychological battery of tests. These are often able to target specific modifications to your work that minimize fatigue and allow you to get the most out of your work environment (eliminating distractions is huge). You do not, however, have a right to a job for which you are not qualified just because you have a disability.

In the driver’s seat

Let us for a moment talk about our driving rights. None of us can get a driver’s license just because we have reached an age where society says we can legally drive. We must take a written test to show we understand the rules of the road and the laws of our state, region, or nation. We must then take a road test to prove that we can safely operate a motor vehicle. That license, once issued, is not the be all and end all. It can be limited or suspended for a number of reasons. For example, an older person with cataracts or glaucoma may be allowed to drive during the daylight hours but restricted in night driving and a notation is ticked into their file in the event they are stopped and their license information is pulled up. They can legally be fined or their license suspended if they are found to be driving at night.

If there is a mobility issue driving may be restricted. In most states, if a person breaks their right leg or hip, they may not legally drive until healing is complete. It is not thought to be generally safe to drive with the left foot unless one has had practice and training to show a safety record and good response times. In cases where lower extremity issues are present, hand controls may be recommended with a series of classes on how to use them safely and even, in some states, a driving test to determine proficiency and safety before clearing an individual to drive with them. Age and level of disability are also factors in maintaining a license. Some states now are retesting individuals above a set age (for that state) or a disability (if you have a plaquard) that may result in slowed response time or diminished vision or hearing. 

With MS, fatigue or overheating are often issues when we get behind the wheel. I have had to blast the A/C, rehydrate, put the seat back and close my eyes for a few minutes before taking off more than a few times. There are times where I have realized I was not sure how I’d gotten to where I realized I was and pulled off the road for a break to recharge my batteries or change drivers. It is when we fail to recognize these needs within ourselves that we get into trouble. We have all seen the T-shirts that say “I’m not drunk! I have MS.” This is not funny when it comes to being behind the wheel of a vehicle. In many states, we can be charged with a DUI (Driving Under the Influence) even if sober. If we cannot stay in our lane, are driving erratically or unable to maintain an even speed that is within the limit, we may be stopped and charged. If we present evidence that we have MS and that is the reason for the infraction, that can mean a license suspension pending a repeat road test to assure that we can safely drive.

Know the laws of your state. Google disability rights in your state and familiarize yourself with the laws relating to work place accommodations or your State’s driving laws when it comes to disability. I have included some links to the American’s with Disabilities Act, the American Civil Liberties Union and International Disability laws.