Employer Perspectives: Technology Issues for Employees with MS
By Ellen Kampel and John M. Williams
Three years ago, Software Connections’ vice president of personnel Andrew Keating had two employees tell him they have multiple sclerosis within a three month time period. When the first employee told Keating about MS, he wasn’t entirely sure what MS even was. A swirl of questions filtered through his mind: Is it contagious? What do I as an employer need to know about MS? Will our insurance premiums rise? How will it impact the work of the person with MS?
Keating says, “I listened intently as the employee discussed MS and the physical and cognitive challenges in front of him.” He says he learned that his employee would need assistive and adaptive technology from time-to-time for work.
Shortly after the employee left, Keating called his boss and told him of the conversation and they discussed how they would accommodate the employee’s needs. In the meantime, Keating had devoured any information he could find on MS. He learned not to fear it, and he learned about the benefits of assistive and adaptive technologies. The more he learned about MS, the more comfort he felt about his ability to provide for his employee.
Over the next few months, Keating observed how the employee with MS was able to work by switching to an alternative keyboard, enlarging the font and altering the background on his computer screen.
“I came to appreciate adaptive and assistive technologies as valuable tools in the life of a person with MS,” Keating says.
Three months after the employee had informed Keating that he had MS, another employee told him that she had MS as well. This time fewer questions swirled through his mind and he had less apprehension.
To perform her job, the woman with MS uses voice recognition software in place of a keyboard and sometimes uses a text-to-speech program. She asked for barrier free access from the elevator to her desk and to the cafeteria and at times she will use a cane for support. As for other technology, Keating says, “she makes extensive use of her appointments calendar.”
After three years of working with these two individuals, Keating is a strong believer that employer education surrounding disability issues is essential. Regarding MS specifically, Keating has seen first-hand the value of assistive technology. As he emphatically states, “Assistive technology plays a role in keeping people with MS active and employed.”
Ellen Kampel is the public affairs manager for the Accessibility Business Unit at Microsoft. John M. Williams has been writing about assistive technology for 28 years. He coined the phrase assistive technology.