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Is epilepsy a disability?

The Equality Act 2010 recognises most forms of epilepsy as a disability, even when someone’s seizures are controlled, or a person doesn’t consider themselves as ‘disabled’.

What is epilepsy?

Recently in the news, following several high-profile cases whose conditions appeared to improve with the use of cannabis oil, epilepsy is a neurological condition that increases the chances of uncontrollable seizures. Associated with abnormal electrical activity in the brain, there are many different types of epilepsy, where some can last for a limited time, but for many people, it is a life-long condition.

Epileptic seizures affect people in many different ways, typically lasting a few seconds to a few minutes. Dependant on which part of the brain is affected, some seizures will cause the whole body to jerk and shake whilst others include loss of awareness or unusual sensations. Sometimes sufferers will not remember their seizures, which can make awareness and diagnosis a lot more difficult.

The NHS has a comprehensive source of information on what to do if someone has a seizure, that friends, family members, colleagues and employers may find useful for future reference.

How many people have epilepsy?

Epilepsy is one of the most common serious neurological conditions in the world, affecting over 600,000 people in the UK alone; around 1 in 100 people. On a worldwide scale, there are around 60 million people who suffer from epilepsy.

Well-known people who have lived with this seizure disorder at one point in their life include painter Vincent Van Gogh, author Charles Dickens, poet Edgar Allan Poe, 26th US President Theodore Roosevelt, the musician Prince, singer/songwriter Neil Young and singer Susan Boyle.

Epilepsy diagnosis and treatment

Usually only diagnosed after a person has had more than one seizure, epilepsy can start at any age – although it’s most commonly diagnosed in people under 20 and people over 65. This is due to some causes being more prevalent within these age ranges, e.g. under 20s: birth difficulties, childhood infections/accidents, over 65s: strokes that lead to epilepsy.

In over half of epilepsy sufferers, doctors don’t know what the cause is. It is suggested that some of these people may have inherited it, as it can often run in families, but research into exactly how epilepsy is inherited continues to this day.

Clear causes for epilepsy include:

  • Strokes
  • Brain infections e.g. meningitis
  • Severe head injuries
  • Birthing problems that diminished the flow of oxygen to the baby

Epilepsy treatments mainly rely on medicines, sometimes referred to as anti-epileptic drugs or AEDs, which help to eliminate or reduce the number of seizures. Other epilepsy treatments include the ketogenic diet, brain surgery and medical cannabis (CBD) in rare circumstances.

Epilepsy and the workplace

Epilepsy is a very diverse condition, so the main point employers need to take away is to avoid making assumptions and instead, talk to the employee and find out what type of epilepsy they have, what their epilepsy is like and how exactly it could affect their work. By talking this through, you will clearly understand any specific warning signs to look out for and what must be done in the event of an epileptic seizure. This safeguards your employee further, as people can end up hurting themselves if appropriate action isn’t taken. Other reasonable adjustments that employers can offer employees with epilepsy include:

  • A ‘low-stress’ working culture – as seizures can be brought on by stress or tiredness
  • Encouragement of epilepsy sufferers to inform their colleagues of their condition, so that they can identify the warning signs/symptoms of a seizure and understand what to do
  • A flexible approach to the way they work, working hours and time off – as some people can return to work quickly after a seizure, whilst others may need more time
  • Risk assessments based on an individual’s circumstances, that only include factual information.

Epilepsy disability benefits support

At Shelforce you can achieve anything

Thoroughly focused on what employees can offer rather than what they can’t, our main mission at Shelforce is to challenge and transform perceptions of disability. Concentrating on the person rather than their disability, if this aligns with your own values, find out more about who we are or contact us for further information.

March 26th is Purple Day; the international day for epilepsy awareness


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