On World MS Day Saleem, Magpie’s Digital Campaign Coordinator, is using his story to build on the international #MSConnections campaign and share how important it is for organisations, such as Magpie, to support MS sufferers and people with other disabilities in the workplace.
Saleem’s MS Journey
14 September 2016. There’s nothing special about that date to most people, but for me, it’s the day my life changed forever. On this day, at just 26 years old, I was diagnosed with a long-term degenerative health condition.
After graduating from university in 2014, I started to notice some very strange symptoms, such as tingling, numbness, blurred vision, and vertigo. At first, I ignored these symptoms assuming they would go away. However, over time they gradually worsened, and I started to develop new symptoms, which included extreme fatigue and bladder incontinence. I soon realised I had to consult my GP and I was referred to the neurology team. After numerous appointments, MRI scans and a painful lumbar puncture I was told that I had MS. This news hit me like a ton of bricks.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an irreversible auto-immune neurological condition. In MS, a person’s immune system mistakenly attacks the central nervous system, damaging the protective fatty acid around the nerves (called myelin). When myelin is damaged, signals cannot pass along the nerves meaning messages can be delayed or not get through at all. MS symptoms vary from person to person and from day to day.
After my diagnosis, I knew my life would never be the same, I went through a period of denial and refusing to accept reality, which had a huge impact on my mental health. Making small adjustments to my life has helped me live more comfortably. My social life is much more restricted, and I now have to listen to my body to better understand my limits, I started using a crutch for support to give me more independence. Having to make changes to my life has been difficult but necessary, MS has forced me to change my life goals and ambitions.
Whilst I was unemployed and suffering from my MS, the people around me and their support became invaluable; without them, my mental well-being would have seriously deteriorated. It’s important to emphasise the big impact positive people can bring to your life and being surrounded by these people helped me a lot. Gerard Savva, the co-founder of Magpie, was one of these people.
After completing numerous internships, I was approached by Gerard in October 2020 with an opportunity to work on some exciting campaigns. Magpie made all the necessary adjustments, including working from home, to make me feel welcomed and part of the team. I am very grateful to Magpie for showing an understanding of my MS. Having a disability-friendly employer who supports you in every way is a blessing. All companies should provide this support to their employees, irrespective of an individual’s condition. For me, having the ability to work on a variety of campaigns and Magpie projects, which help to create healthier and happier communities, has given me a new lease of life.
The main lesson from my MS journey is that there are always wonderful people to support you and guide you, no matter how big your struggles are. This sounds like a cliché, but never give up, be patient, because good things happen to good people with good intentions.
My MS journey will continue; I am excited about the future and planning to take on new challenges. However, I always like to remind myself of my past, reflecting on how far I have come and how much I have achieved.
Saleem’s top tips for being a disability-friendly employer
With the right support, I believe that all disabled people can achieve anything they desire and one of the biggest barriers put in a disabled person’s way is company perceptions. Here are my four top tips companies can adopt to become more disability-friendly:
- Flexibility – People with severe mobility impairments find commuting on a regular basis challenging, allowing working from home and flexible working hours reduces tiredness and stress. This has helped me to better manage my MS symptoms.
- Provide Special Equipment – The government-funded Access to Work scheme provides disabled people with the necessary equipment required to perform their roles comfortably. I’ve been encouraged and supported to apply to the scheme, equipping me with all I need to do my job comfortably.
- Company Culture – Revising the company culture to make it more inclusive and accessible, creating guidelines to reflect inclusivity, and adjusting work-related away days & social events all go a long way to creating a culture of disability acceptance. At Magpie, we value team building events and staff away days, but before any staff away day, all adjustments and requirements are planned ahead of schedule in partnership with me.
- Good Communication – Keeping up to date on the disabled person’s condition and mental well-being, as well as allowing open and honest conversations is important. I’ve found regular contact with my line manager as well as face to face meetings really beneficial.