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Accessing Accommodations at Work or School Can Feel Overwhelming. Where Do I Start?

Managing Migraine

July 12, 2023

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Photography by Preappy/Stocksy United

Photography by Preappy/Stocksy United

by Nia G.

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Medically Reviewed by:

Megan Soliman, MD

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by Nia G.

•••••

Medically Reviewed by:

Megan Soliman, MD

•••••

•••••

Whether you are a student or in the workforce, you deserve to have your needs met. Asking for accommodations can be intimidating — this article will help you figure out your first steps.

Living with a chronic illness or disability can make studying or working difficult at times. From the stress of high-stakes responsibilities and deadlines to long hours and inaccessible environments, living with a chronic condition can make it particularly difficult to stay on top of your work or school schedule.

The situation can be complicated by the fact that schools and workplaces often lack adequate support for people with chronic conditions and disabilities. This can result in students who live with chronic conditions dropping out of school or employees needing to quit or struggling to find accessible work.

Moreover, accommodations that were provided during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to employees are now being scaled back. The lack of willingness to keep these accommodations in place is continuing to negatively impact employees living with chronic illnesses and disabilities.

The world of accommodations can be complicated, and sometimes, people aren’t even aware of the help and accommodations they are entitled to. There are several adjustments that you can and should ask for if you need them.

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Getting started

It’s always good to start off by finding the equality and diversity policy at the institution you are studying or working. By reading these, as well as information about disability equality often provided by charities, you will get a sense of what support you are entitled to.

Moreover, if you’re a student, investigate what financial support schemes are available for disabled students specifically. For example, in the United Kingdom, this takes the form of Disabled Students Allowance, which can be used to fund travel to your place of education, as well as resources or mentoring you may need along the way.

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Accommodations for students

Whether you’re at school, college, or university, the accommodations that you are entitled to as a student are all very similar.

Here are some examples of accommodations that you may be entitled to, depending on where you are and which may be helpful:

Meet with someone from the well-being or disability center at your school

These centers are often responsible for drawing up unique tailored support plans for individual students. These plans are carefully crafted documents that outline specific accommodations.

These might include:

  • Exam modifications: You may be able to have extra time or additional breaks during your exams. You may also be able to take your exams in a private, quieter area that’s less triggering for your symptoms. You may be able to request a scribe or take your exam on a technological device rather than writing answers out by hand.
  • Extended deadlines: You may be entitled to extra time to complete coursework and assignments.
  • Attendance flexibility: You may be given permission to be late or leave early from class in case your symptoms flare up. You can also ask if there are options for 1:1 office hours or meetings with your professors to catch up on missed work.

Accommodations in the workplace

If you’re not studying but working instead, here are some accommodations that you might be able to access, depending on your workplace and the nature of your job.

Start by meeting with your human resources (HR) or occupational health department to draw up a tailored plan to support your unique needs.

This plan can include some of the following accommodations:

  • More flexible working hours: You may be allowed to choose what time of day you work, or you may be able to opt to work in shorter, more spread-out shifts. This can help if you live with a condition where symptoms are worse at a specific time of day. Shorter shifts can help if your symptoms are triggered by prolonged physical activity.
  • Modifications to work tasks: You may, for example, request that you are allocated more tasks that you find easier to complete based on your symptoms. If you have mobility challenges, you may request that you only work on tasks that can be conducted while seated. You also may receive permission or avoid certain tasks that could trigger your symptoms.
  • Time-off flexibility: You may be entitled to additional days off, perhaps at short notice, due to symptoms and appointments. You could discuss if there are ways to spread out your sick days and paid time off more evenly across the year.
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Speak up about your needs

It’s important to speak up about what your needs are currently — and what they may be in the future.

Whether you are a student or an employee, it’s important to explain to your company or school’s support team that, due to your condition, your needs are different than others. You may need more days due to symptoms and appointments. You can request that when this happens, you are kept updated and allowed to continue working remotely.

Think about your physical needs. Is there particular equipment that you may benefit from? For example, an ergonomic chair in the office or classroom to use.

Ask if you are able to bring your own equipment into the office or classroom. For example, digital audio recorders, mobility aids, or medical devices. Would you benefit from bringing snacks and beverages with you?

You can also ask if it’s possible to work or study, at least partly remotely. The flexibility to continue your work or studies remotely can remove the pressure to attend in person when your symptoms are flaring. This can be particularly significant if you are immunocompromised and would be safer avoiding crowded settings.

The bottom line

Asking and requesting accommodations can feel like a daunting process. I’ve seen firsthand that there are times when such requests are unfairly refused. I’ve learned that these are the moments when I need to advocate harder for my needs.

Remember: You have a right to access these accommodations. You have the right to work or study in a way that supports you. Many countries even have laws in place to protect your rights as a student or employee.

Medically reviewed on July 12, 2023


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Connect with thousands of members and find support through daily live chats, curated resources, and one-to-one messaging.

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About the author

Nia G.

Nia is a chronic illness and disability advocate from the United Kingdom. Living with many conditions herself, Nia founded The Chronic Notebook platform on Instagram in 2019, now with 18K followers and growing. Since then, she has used The Chronic Notebook across online channels to spread awareness and educate others on issues around chronic illness and disability. In 2020, Nia won the ASUS Enter Your Voice Competition, receiving a grant to fund projects related to her work. Nia continues to work with charities and companies with illness and disability as their core focus.

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