The Americans with Disabilities Act: Putting the IBD in Invisible Disability

The Americans with Disabilities Act: Putting the IBD in Invisible Disability
Last week, I wrote about working from home. Not all occupations adapt to telecommuting. Some employers can’t, or won’t, allow employees to work from home. How can inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) patients balance work and managing their disease with a mainstream job? Working with IBD can be emotionally and physically exhausting, especially during a flare. I spent most of my career prioritizing it over my health because I thought I had no choice. I didn’t know I had options under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which celebrated its 30th anniversary on July 26. The vicious cycle I worked at my sickest for two reasons: health insurance and income. Before the Affordable Care Act, I only qualified for health insurance through my employer or spouse. Because I was single at the time, finding a job was a lot simpler than finding a husband. Likewise, being unmarried, I had to support myself financially. I constantly feared losing my job because of my illnesses. I needed to work to pay for my health, but my health made working difficult. In 1997, my gastroenterologist diagnosed me with primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), an autoimmune liver disease associated with IBD. I was afraid to tell potential employers about my disease for fear of not being hired. Also, I didn’t understand PSC enough to know how it would affect my ability to work. I didn’t realize how detrimental having an autoimmune disease could be for my career until I was laid off. While I looked for a job, a good friend hired me as an independent contractor for the company where he was the chief operating officer. I half-jokingly suggested he hire me full time. Guffawing, he bluntly replied that he would never hire me because I would increase insurance premiums. From then on, I men
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