Having keratoconus can be tough and if you also have a job, sometimes it can get a bit tricky. You can’t always change your job to suit the condition, but there are steps you can take a work to make working life with keratoconus easier.
Firstly- tell your employer.
Talk to the HR(personnel) department or your line manager about the impact your keratoconus is likely to have on your ability to work. If they don’t know about your KC it is hard for them to help you and provide equipment or perhaps adapt your working environment to help you. And then there’s the hospital or eye clinic, or lens fitting appointments. Perhaps you will have collagen cross linking or a corneal graft. You will need time off for these, either as holiday, sick pay or compassionate leave depending on your employer. The more up front and honest you are, the easier it will be.
Remember that you cannot be discriminated against because you have keratoconus. In the UK employees only need a fit note from a doctor after 7 days off work sick and have the right to use their statutory holiday entitlement during their sickness.
Your employer has a duty to take reasonable steps to help you do your job.
Your co-workers will know what to do if you have an emergency such as a lost contact lenses, light sensitivity and so on
Your employer can make small but important changes to make life at work easier for you, such as changing which floor you work on or changing where you work, driving may be tricky for example
You may be eligible for more sick days than usual.
Honesty is the best policy
There are good reasons to be honest with your employer about your condition. It’s natural to worry that you’ll be sacked, made redundant, forced into early retirement or passed over for promotion or bonuses, but 1 in 6 people in the UK work with some sort of illness or disability, and are happy and successful. However stress won’t make you feel better and could make you feel worse, focusing on the kc- so share the burden and you will feel better! When I first told a previous employer I was amazed to be told ‘oh you should speak to John, he also has keratoconus’- and it was true- there was another chap in the office was KC!
Don’t forget as well that in the UK the law is on your side. It is unlawful for an employer to dismiss you on the grounds of chronic illness or because you need regular treatment. Under the Equality Act 2010, your employer must make reasonable changes to your workspace and working conditions in order to help you do your job.
If you feel it will be difficult to continue in the same job, consider asking your employer to:
change your job or workload
move you to lighter or less demanding work
train you to do another job
allow you to work from home
Talk to your manager and colleagues about how keratoconus affects you. You don’t need to go into details if you don’t want to, but give them enough information to understand what having keratoconus is like so that they can respond to a problem you might have. Remember that 1 in 500 have keratoconus, and you are not some sort of freak!
Ask to sit at the front for meetings, explain why bright overhead lights bother you (I had the bulbs above my desk removed), sit near a window, get fresh air breaks etc. You can also ask for a bigger PC screen, zoom text software, or any other kit that will help you do your job and minimise the effects of the keratoconus. KC can become a bit of a talking point and you can even be more light hearted about it when you are sharing the load. If they know why you have to take your lenses out now and again it won’t be an issue.
If, after talking to your employer, you feel you’re not getting the help and support you need, talk to your trade union, occupational health department, human resources adviser or local Citizen’s Advice Bureau branch for confidential advice on what to do next. There are also disability employment advisers who you can contact through the Job Centre. More info here
Life with keratoconus can be hard and perhaps you might not be able to pursue the career you had dreamed of, The Armed Forces and the police force for example will not allow you to join if you have keratoconus, and for good reason. Medical conditions that preclude entry to British Army:
Eye disease, e.g. glaucoma, keratoconus, retinitis pigmentosa. Double vision. Visual field defects. Corneal grafts or recurrent corneal ulcers. Cataract or cataract surgery. Detached retina. Vision only in one eye. Squint surgery in the previous six months. Laser eye surgery in the previous 12 months.
But we know folk who have amazing careers and have even changed their careers as a result of having KC and they include doctors, nurses, graphic designers, photographers and computer experts.
The digital age and keratoconus
Many of us now work daily with computers, which can be hard with keratoconus, but again there are steps you can take to make your working life easier. Symptoms of digital eye strain include red, dry or irritated eyes, blurred vision, eye fatigue, back, neck and shoulder pain, and headaches.
To help combat the eye fatigue and irritation, the Vision Council offers these tips for incorporating good “eyegonomics” into your day.
- Create an ergonomically-friendly work station with proper lighting, seat adjustments, and monitor settings
- Maintain an appropriate distance from handheld and stationary device screens
- Enlarge your computer text and browser windows for easier viewing
- Clean electronic device screens frequently to eliminate dust and glare
- Remember to blink; staring at screens can dry eyes
- The 20/20/20 Rule: When spending long periods in front of a digital device, every 20 minutes, spend 20 seconds looking at something 20 feet away to allow your eyes to rest.
Read more at: http://mashable.com/2013/02/19/digital-eye-strain-tips/
Further information- stress at work ACAS http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=815
Keratoconus- advice for employers – http://www.keratoconus-group.org.uk/publications/Information_for_Employers_A4.pdf
10 tips for computer users http://www.allaboutvision.com/cvs/irritated.htm
Written by Rae Lovejoy, Digital Account Manager one corneal graft, over 20 years work experience in publishing, media and marketing.