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About Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)/Lou Gehrig's Disease
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as "Lou Gehrig's disease," is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that attacks nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease affecting the nerve cells of the spinal cord and brain. As ALS progresses, the motor neurons that span from the brain to the spinal cord to the muscles are destroyed, leading to loss of muscle control. This can lead to involuntary muscle movements as well as the inability to speak, swallow, and breathe. Two types of ALS are known: Familial (which is inherited) and Sporadic. Sporadic is the most common, comprising almost 95% of ALS cases. Around 20,000 people in the US have ALS and most are diagnosed between the ages of 40 and 70.
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)/Lou Gehrig's Disease and the Americans with Disabilities Act
The ADA does not contain a definitive list of medical conditions that constitute disabilities. Instead, the ADA defines a person with a disability as someone who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more "major life activities," (2) has a record of such an impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment. For more information about how to determine whether a person has a disability under the ADA, see How to Determine Whether a Person Has a Disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA).
Accommodating Employees with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)/Lou Gehrig's Disease
People with limitations from ALS may develop some of the limitations discussed below, but seldom develop all of them. Also, the degree of limitation will vary among individuals. Be aware that not all people with ALS will need accommodations to perform their jobs and many others may only need a few accommodations. The following is only a sample of the possibilities available. Numerous other accommodation solutions may exist.
Questions to Consider:
- What limitations is the employee experiencing?
- How do these limitations affect the employee and the employee’s job performance?
- What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
- What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
- Once accommodations are in place, would it be useful to meet with the employee to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed?
- Do supervisory personnel and employees need training?
Situations and Solutions:
The following situations and solutions are real-life examples of accommodations that were made by JAN customers. Because accommodations are made on a case-by-case basis, these examples may not be effective for every workplace but give you an idea about the types of accommodations that are possible.
A customer service representative for a financial institution had ALS and his symptoms were being exacerbated by stress.
The noisy work environment and commute to work brought on additional stress to the employee. After calling JAN and better understanding its obligation to accommodate, the employer permitted this employee to work at home. The employee was able to continue working without exacerbating his condition.
A clerk at a local government was experiencing weakening speech due to Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Her job required her to communicate to coworkers and the public. Following a JAN consultation, the employer ended up providing the employee with a portable text communication device along with an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Device which enabled her to communicate effectively in the workplace.
A university had offered a nursing instructor position to an applicant with ALS who used a wheelchair.
The university called JAN to better understand what modifications they needed to make to the physical work-site and learn what products could be used for the new hire. JAN suggested automatic door openers, a height adjustable table to teach from, and explained parking as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.
An office worker in a hospital was experiencing muscle weakness in his neck and arms due to ALS
His employer called JAN looking for product ideas, specifically information on ergonomic chairs with a high back, neck rest, and arm rests. JAN was able to e-mail a vendor list for equipment so the employer could make an informed decision.
An insurance underwriter with ALS had general body weakness, he was no longer able to work in the standard office workstation.
The employer purchased a supine workstation which enabled the employee to continue to do his job from the reclined position. This permitted the employer to retain a qualified employee and helped maintain productivity.