The first time someone asked me if there was anything they could do to make my workspace more accessible for my chronic illness/brain condition, I wasn’t sure what to say, as I had never considered how it could influence how I configure my desk or work in an office space. Over the years, I have learned a lot about making accessible for chronic illness, and specifically Chiari Malformation, including products that are helpful and other organizational tricks. In honor of Chiari Malformation Awareness Month, here are my tips for how to create accessible workspaces for people with Chiari Malformation and similar chronic illness/chronic pain conditions.
Have reminders and other information in accessible formats
One of the things that can help me tremendously with productivity and staying on top of tasks is having reminders and other information available in a format that I can easily access. Since I have some difficulty with reading handwritten notes (and handwriting in general), I’ve found that the best way for me to access information is by using the digital sticky notes on my desktop or by adding notes/reminders to a virtual assistant tool like Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. When I interned at a major technology company, I would often add notes in an app like Google Keep or Microsoft To-Do, which synchronized across all of my devices and helped me a lot with remembering what had happened in a meeting.
- How Amazon Alexa Can Help With Online Learning
- Eight Ways To Read Handwritten Cards With Assistive Technology
- How I Use My Phone As Assistive Technology In Class
Put the trashcan in an easily reachable place
While this was not an intentional design, putting my trashcan and recycling bins in close proximity to my desk has been helpful for me, as some people with Chiari Malformation may have issues with balance, vertigo, or mobility in general. It’s also helpful for people with double vision, as it can be beneficial to feel the side of a container so that they know they aren’t dropping their trash/recycling on the floor. If someone doesn’t need a trash can by their desk but uses mobility aids such as canes, an empty trash can may provide a convenient place to store mobility aids so that they can be easily accessed- I prefer hanging my canes though.
Adjust the height of displays to help with neck strain
Whether someone has had decompression surgery or not, neck strain/pain can be a common issue for people living with Chiari Malformation, as they may have to put their heads in different positions in order to be comfortable or to read a computer monitor. One of the ways to reduce neck strain is adjusting the height of computer displays or desks, so they are at an angle that feels more natural to read from. One of my friends had a laptop stand at their desk so that they had more precision with angling their display to fit their needs, while another friend put a textbook underneath their monitor so that it was higher.
- Why Everyone Should Design For Chiari Malformation: My Talk At ID24 2020
- Choosing New Devices With Chiari Malformation
If relevant, have an under-the-desk stool or footrest
Leg spasms and pain can make sitting with Chiari Malformation uncomfortable, and I’ve found that having an under-the-desk stool or footrest can help dramatically with being able to sit for long periods of time. Currently, I am using an inflatable footrest that I got on Amazon, though in the past I have rested my legs on a rolling backpack or another chair if needed. I’ve linked the footrest I use below.
Use different lighting
Overhead lights or fluorescent lights can trigger migraines or contribute to eye fatigue, especially for people with chronic migraine conditions like Chiari. One of the things that have helped me to deal with environmental lighting is wearing prescription tinted glasses, though it’s also helpful to configure lighting for my desk on my own. When I worked in an enclosed office space, I had my own lamp that I would use instead of the overhead lighting, and it helped me tremendously with being able to concentrate, and I found it more comfortable than working in total darkness. If adjusting overhead lighting is not an option, adjusting the color scheme on the computer can be a great way to help with eyestrain.
Add a backrest for chairs
I have a lumbar pillow on all of my desk chairs, at the kitchen table, and even bring one to class to help with my back pain, as well as ensure that I have good posture. I have found that this makes a difference in how intense my back pain gets after sitting at a computer or working for long periods of time. There are several options on Amazon for lumbar pillows for desk chairs- mine cost about $20 and has helped me tremendously with being able to concentrate at work.
- Lumbar pillow on Amazon
- How I’m Managing My Back Pain This Semester
- Pain Management Tools I Love From Amazon
While I recognize that not everyone who has Chiari Malformation is able to have a part-time or full-time job because chronic illness can be demanding, I have found that implementing these tips has helped me with being able to be productive at work and made it easier to manage my condition without aggravating it further. I hope these tips on how to create accessible workspaces for Chiari Malformation are helpful for others!