Navigating a Career With Early-onset Parkinson’s Disease

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by Samantha Felder |

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When a person is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at a young age, many thoughts swirl through their head. Once the dust starts to settle, they’ll likely start thinking about their career. Will they be able to continue working? If so, how long? What will happen when they can’t? Will they lose their house or car? Go bankrupt?

When I was diagnosed at 21, I wondered what I would do. I hadn’t even entered the “real” world yet. I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to find a job. I had no idea if anyone would take a chance on me, especially in my field of education. Who would hire someone straight out of college with no experience and a progressive disability? Thankfully, one school district did — for that year, at least.

In considering how to navigate a career when Parkinson’s is calling the shots, we must take several things into consideration. One is the demands of the job. Those who work stationary desk jobs may be able to stay in their position for longer. On the other hand, those with more active jobs may have difficulty continuing in their roles. For instance, former NBA player Brian Grant, whose job was to run up and down a court, retired in 2006 due to health issues and was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s two years later.

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Another factor is whether we will be accepted by employers and co-workers. Many of us work hard to hide our symptoms, worried our co-workers would look at us differently if they knew. But hiding symptoms all day, every day, can become tiring and stressful, which often makes them worse.

Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), companies are prohibited from discriminating based on disability. Employers may need to offer accommodations to enable an otherwise qualified person to do their job.

Job accommodations are adjustments to a job or work environment that enable someone with a disability to participate in the application process or perform essential job functions. Examples include adjusting work schedules, changing the height of a desk, or providing materials in Braille. One accommodation that interests me is an employer reassigning a person with a disability to a different, vacant position — one they are likely to be successful at — if they become unable to continue in their current position.

Just as each person’s Parkinson’s is different, decisions regarding work will vary for each of us. Personally, I only lasted one year working full time due to internal and external stress. Leaving my students and the teachers I was befriending was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made. But health comes first.

If you have a disability, know that you do not have to make decisions alone. There are multiple resources available to guide you through the process of seeking or maintaining a job. For example, the U.S. Department of Justice offers a guide to disability rights laws. The ADA National Network is also worth exploring. This resource offers ADA training via webinars, podcasts, and in-person sessions.

Be prepared to make adjustments to your dream job. But through the changes, remember that when one door closes, another opens.

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Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.

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