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Practical Ideas for Accommodating Individuals with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Learn more about accommodations for rheumatoid arthritis

From the desk of Beth Loy, Ph.D., Principal Consultant/Technical Specialist

Millions of workers are affected by limitations associated with arthritis. Most of these individuals need very few accommodations. Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis and typically worsens with age. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), although not as common, can cause significant limitations in individuals of all ages. With RA, one’s immune system attacks the joints and inflammation can affect the entire body.

RA affects joints in a way that limits both sides of the body. You could term it as a bilateral condition. So, for example, if you have RA in one hand, you have it in the other. Because it is an autoimmune disorder, RA can also affect the lungs, heart, skin, blood, nerves, and eyes. The most common issues heard at JAN are from limitations due to joint pain and stiffness in the upper and lower body, fatigue, and temperature sensitivity.

Let’s look at a few situations where individuals with RA were accommodated.

  • A manufacturing inspector with RA was having difficulty moving throughout her plant to monitor workers. She was limited in her ability to walk. She was accommodated with an all-terrain, motorized scooter.
  • An account representative with RA had problems typing for long periods. This was slowing down his ability to enter his case notes. The individual was accommodated with an ergonomic keyboard and tablet computer. The tablet computer allowed him to move around more during the day.
  • An assembly line worker was having difficulty standing for long periods due to fatigue from RA. As an accommodation he was given an anti-fatigue mat and a stand-lean stool. He then had the flexibility to stand and lean as he needed.
  • An administrator who worked in a common area had difficulty dealing with temperature fluctuations in the winter. To accommodate this, she was given a flexible schedule and allowed to come in later or telework when necessary. Her employer also provided her with a space heater.

When accommodating an individual with RA, it’s important to remember that limitations vary among individuals. They could also change as the weather changes and temperature fluctuates. Talking with the individual is always an important first step in implementing reasonable accommodations.