How to Manage Rheumatoid Arthritis at Work

Can’t seem to manage rheumatoid arthritis on the job? Don’t despair! These tips will help you keep up with job demands.

Barbara Burgower Hordern

Each of us has our share of work-related gripes. But, if you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the workplace can be particularly challenging. Pain, stiffness and general discomfort can make it difficult just to get through the day. Learning to manage your on-the-job life, however, is the key to success. Here are three stories that could help you. 

An RA-friendly workplace
Verlynn Sauve, 53, of Kingston, Ontario, has had RA since she was 17. Despite suffering extensive joint damage, she worked as an electrical engineer for many years before retiring in 1993. What made a difference for Verlynn was asking her employer for help—and getting it!

“I loved working,” says Verlynn. “My employers were wonderful. It took me a long time to get moving in the morning, so they let me come in at noon and work late.  When I felt cold, they gave me a space heater. To minimize my walking, they found me a parking space close to my work area.” They even made Verlynn’s personal workspace more arthritis-friendly by providing an ergonomic desk.

If you are finding it difficult to get your employer to assist you in making the workplace more RA-friendly, keep in mind that, in the United States, the law is on your side. Since 1990, workplace accessibility and accommodations have been mandated under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor has set up the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) to help keep employees on the job. Additional services are available through state vocational rehabilitation departments. To find yours, do an Internet search with the term “vocational rehabilitation department” and the name of your state (e.g., “vocational rehabilitation department South Carolina”).

Among the things employers can do to make the workplace more arthritis-friendly are the following JAN-recommended accommodations:

  • Accessible restrooms and break rooms
  • Adjustable sit/stand workstations
  • Automatic door openers
  • Book holders (mechanical devices that hold books open)
  • Closer access to restrooms
  • Desks that can be lowered or raised
  • Ergonomic chairs and tools
  • Files at levels that minimize bending or stooping
  • Flexible hours
  • Longer rest breaks
  • Joystick or roller-ball computer mice
  • Modified switches for equipment/lights that make them easier to turn on and off
  • Motorized scooters
  • Note takers or personal attendants to assist at meetings, etc.
  • Page turners (hands-free devices that can turn book pages)
  • Spinner balls (instead of steering wheels) that allow easy maneuverability of work-related vehicles
  • Shorter staff meetings (to lessen pain and stiffening)
  • Space heaters or added insulation to control temperature
  • Speech-recognition software
  • Writing aids, including cushioned pens that make holding and writing easier and less painful

Important note: Remember that it is your right under the ADA to receive reasonable accommodations. The JAN provides employees and employers with free, confidential technical assistance with job accommodations and the ADA. Visit or call 800-526-7234 for more information. 

April 2013