Epilepsy in the Workplace

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Today is Purple Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness about epilepsy worldwide. Although nearly 1% of the population in Canada lives with epilepsy - roughly 300,000 people with an additional 14,000 people being diagnosed every year - many misconceptions about epilepsy still exist.

Epilepsy is not a disease but rather a collection of symptoms that manifest themselves through recurrent seizures. While there are some medical interventions that can limit seizures, about 30% of people living with epilepsy cannot control when they have them. This can have ramifications in the workplace, both for hiring people with epilepsy and working alongside them. 

According to the Canadian Epilepsy Alliance, for persons living with epilepsy,

"the unemployment rate is double that of the general population. Under-employment is also a serious problem: about 40 per cent are not given jobs that fully use their skills. A Canadian National Population Health Survey conducted in 1994/1995 showed that only 40 per cent of adults (16 years of age and over) with chronic epilepsy were employed."

According to the CEA, there are many reasons for their unemployment and underemployment:

"The central issues are lack of knowledge about the disorder and epilepsy's perceived impact in the workplace. This ignorance and resulting misunderstanding produce unnecessary fear and anxiety among both employees with epilepsy and employers. Specific concerns regarding disclosure, accommodation, safety and liability then arise, and a vicious circle ensues. 

Workers with epilepsy face negative and uninformed attitudes, outright (and illegal) discrimination, sometimes unnecessary driving requirements, fear of repercussions after disclosing and under-utilization of their skills. On the other hand, employers worry about productivity, absenteeism, liability, job performance, reaction of customers or co-workers, accommodation costs and workplace safety."

Knowledge about epilepsy and education of all people in the workplace, from recruiters to executives to co-workers, remain the greatest weapon for combating misconceptions about epilepsy. The Epilepsy Association of Calgary provides free education sessions to employers on understanding what a seizure is, how to help, and how to provide support to a person with epilepsy.

Workplace accommodations for persons living with epilepsy are often inexpensive and only require a flexible and creative mindset. Flicker free monitors, deep arm rests, rubber matting, padded edges on desks and safety guards on machinery are all examples of easy to implement accommodations. Knowing which accommodations to use requires open and honest discussion between an employee and their employer, and asking assistance from outside sources when needed.

Purple Day is all about raising awareness about epilepsy, but working to remove barriers and misconceptions about epilepsy in the workplace is how you can truly make an impact every day of the year.

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]