By: Sheryl Grossman, Consultant – Motor Team
For some, the month of February is about expressing love for family, friends, and even co-workers. For others, February is about thawing out from the cold and dark of winter and beginning to realize results from health commitments made in the New Year — to eating a healthier diet, exercising more regularly, and improving overall heart health.
However, for those who have experienced a heart attack, atrial fibrillation, or other heart conditions requiring a pacemaker to assist in maintaining a normal rhythm, February like any other month is a time to focus on the love of one’s work and new heart related concerns. This may seem particularly daunting to those who work around utility lines, strong electrical/medical equipment, or near the potential for a spark, like when welding. Electro-magnetic radiation emanating from these devices may cause electro-magnetic interference (EMI) that can interrupt the pacemaker’s functioning.
Fortunately, advances in occupational safety allow for job accommodations that may not have been possible years ago. The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) provides many suggestions for working around electrical appliances, cellular telephones, medical devices, and when working as arc welders if an individual has a pacemaker.
Due to increased exposure of those with pacemakers to EMI-producing elements in their day to day lives, pacemaker manufacturers have responded with more and better implant protection; however, this cannot protect against all incidents of exposure. For this reason many people using pacemakers also use an EMI detector to warn them of an EMI source above the threshold for their implanted device in the near vicinity. Most individuals will experience only minor and temporary interference with their implants when exposed and this will most often disappear as they move away from the source of the interference.
Employers can assist these individuals who are returning to work by:
- Ensuring electrical appliances and equipment are well-maintained to prevent leakage and sparking;
- Shielding gas-powered generators and gas-powered saws;
- Providing EMI protective gear for these workers;
- Providing electro-magnetic frequency (EMF) blocking/shielding devices and appropriate long-corded, headsets for cellular telephones;
- Allowing the use of an EMI detector and the ability for one to move away from an area if the alarm goes off.
On the JAN Website, you can find additional tips for accommodating people using pacemakers in the workplace.
By: Sheryl Grossman, Consultant – Motor Team
For the past 7 years, February has been designated as National Jewish Disability Awareness Month in the United States. Across the country, Jewish organizations have initiated programming and embarked on construction projects aimed at creating fully inclusive communities, including the world of work. While there are hundreds of organizations participating in this nationwide effort, we’d like to highlight two of these that have focused in particular on employment.
RespectAbilityUSA is a national, non-profit organization working to enable people with disabilities to achieve the American dream. Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, in her role as president states, “Indeed, Jews with disabilities and their families have the same hopes and dreams as everyone else, even if they face different challenges. Many people with disabilities can be fantastic employees — when they are fully welcomed and included.”
She goes on to say, “People with disabilities bring unique characteristics and talents to workplaces that benefit employers and staff.” She continues, “The majority of working age people with disabilities want to work and they deserve the opportunity to achieve the American dream.” To this end, RespectAbility has introduced a toolkit to assist those with disabilities to obtain competitive employment.
Ruderman Family Foundation
Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, is looking to achieve full inclusion in all aspects of community life. He emphasizes, “The surest path to full inclusion in our society comes from meaningful employment. People with disabilities are the most excluded members of our society because they are unemployed at the rate of 70 percent.” As a result, he said, “We must hold up as shining examples those employers who have demonstrated a commitment to hiring people with disabilities.” The Ruderman Family Foundation, in partnership with the Jewish Week Media Group, has now launched its “Best In Business Campaign” to do just that.
While February is National Jewish Disability Awareness Month, inclusion happens 365 days per year. For tips on how your business can be fully inclusive by hiring and retaining more workers with disabilities, visit the JAN Website.
By: Elisabeth Simpson, Senior Consultant – Motor Team
Between Valentine’s Day and American Heart Month, February is a time of year when connecting with others and taking care of ourselves is pushed to the forefront. So what better way to connect with others while keeping your heart healthy than to find your heart-healthy buddy in the workplace? Having a colleague or co-worker who is in the same boat as you or just wants to develop a healthier lifestyle can have a positive impact on your heart, other areas of health, and even on how you do your job.
According to the American Heart Association, about 80 million U.S. adults have been diagnosed with high blood pressure (HBP) (American Heart Association, 2014). Even though HBP doesn’t typically have any symptoms associated with it, there can be deadly consequences for not treating this disease. On a positive note, HBP is a disease that can be prevented and treated. The AHA offers a list of eight suggestions for controlling HBP.
- Eat a better diet, which may include reducing salt
- Enjoy regular physical activity
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Manage stress
- Avoid tobacco smoke
- Comply with medication prescriptions
- If you drink, limit alcohol
- Understand hot tub safety
So how do we integrate these preventative measures into our work life routines where stress can be constant and various factors limit how well we take care of ourselves during the workday? JAN’s suggestion: Find a “heart-healthy buddy!” It can be hard to start a new routine and stay on track. Finding a co-worker who is interested in making or maintaining healthy lifestyle choices can be a great support system.
Here are 5 tips for maintaining a healthy heart in the workplace with your heart-healthy buddy that address a number of the tips for controlling HBP provided by the AHA.
- Meet up at lunch for a short walk, yoga, meditation, etc.
We know it can be hard to step away from the desk and take advantage of the breaks provided, especially when the temperature starts to drop! But physical activity not only helps to control HBP, it helps manage weight, strengthen the heart, and manage stress levels (AHA, 2014). Even short periods of exercise can make a difference! The AHA (2014) recommends that those who need to lower their blood pressure or cholesterol aim for 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity 3 to 4 times per week, with physical activity being performed in episodes of at least 10 minutes. Flexibility and stretching exercises are also suggested (AHA, 2014). Of course, those with chronic conditions should talk with their healthcare provider before increasing their activity level. Once you have the go-ahead, put that smart phone down, give the computer a break, and get moving!
- Hold each other accountable for meals at work including lunch, parties and celebrations, and off-site employer sponsored events.
You get busy during the morning and forget to pack a lunch. Next thing you know, it’s 11:45 am and you are starving. What to do? Are you tempted to call up the local pizzeria and have that meatball hoagie you love so much delivered right to your office? And what about those holiday parties, monthly birthday celebrations, and work retreats? It can be hard to resist the pot-luck casseroles and cakes without having someone holding you accountable. Knowing that your heart-healthy buddy will be there for support, and vice-versa, can make the decision-making process easier at events where it is especially hard to pass on the homemade cupcakes you both love so much!
- Swap heart-healthy dinner recipes.
The AHA has indicated that eating a heart-healthy diet is important for managing your blood pressure and reducing your risk of heart attack, heart disease, stroke and other diseases (AHA, 2014). But after a long day of work it can be daunting to think about preparing a meal that is heart-healthy and easy to make. One way to take the stress out of meal planning can be to swap your favorite heart-healthy meals with your buddy. If you have the time, planning out your menu for the entire week over the weekend or even prepping parts of the meal can be helpful.
- Take turns bringing in heart-healthy snacks that can be shared.
Mid-afternoon hunger pains can get the best of us and making a stop at the snack machine can be hard habits to break. The AHA (2014) recommends consuming less than 1500 mg of sodium a day, which is less than ¾ teaspoon of salt per day. Raw vegetables and fruits can be a great alternative to chips and salted nuts and are great for sharing. The AHA offers free recipes online that include snacks and appetizers including a Greek yogurt dip and hummus to go with fruits and vegetables shared during an afternoon break with your heart-healthy buddy (AHA, 2014).
- Offer support to one another to help manage stress.
Although stress is not a confirmed risk factor for either high blood pressure or heart disease (AHA, 2014), managing stress in the workplace can help to reduce emotional discomfort or anxiety that results from feeling stressed. One way to combat stress during the workday is to be mindful of when you are feeling stressed and employ techniques to reduce stress. This can include talking with your heart-healthy buddy about what triggers your stress, how to mitigate the effects of stress, plans for managing stressful events that can’t be changed and, brainstorming how to solve problems that contribute to stress.
Following these tips and getting support from a heart-healthy buddy may help you to feel better while at work and have a positive impact on the work that you do. Of course, if there are accommodations that can be made in the workplace that are needed because of a heart condition your employer may need to provide them, absent undue hardship. Visit the JAN Website for more information on heart conditions and accommodating employees with heart conditions.
American Heart Association. (2014). High Blood Pressure. Retrieved February 18, 2015, from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/High-Blood-Pressure-or-Hypertension_UCM_002020_SubHomePage.jsp.
By: Beth Loy, Ph.D. – Principal Consultant
For individuals with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), it can be difficult to take a deep breath at times. This difficulty may be triggered by temperature changes, humidity levels, contaminants, pollution, chemical fumes, and the performance of a strenuous task. COPD is a progressive disease that gets worse over time, making it hard to breathe (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2013). Millions of people have been diagnosed with varying levels of COPD. However, with advancement in oxygen portability, medications, and therapies, many individuals are continuing to work after a diagnosis.
High air quality is very important for those working with COPD. To improve air quality, workplace accommodations can include: air purifiers, fragrance-free common areas, and fresh air breaks. Fans can also help circulate air in confined areas. Telework and a modification of work schedule can also be helpful during times of inclement weather, such as excessively hot or cold temperatures.
Location of workstation can also be important to someone with COPD. Being close to food areas, restrooms, cleaning materials, and maintenance areas can cause odors that are hazardous to someone with COPD. Keeping a work area free of pollutants such as cleaning agents, pesticides, exhaust fumes, and tobacco smoke will improve air quality.
Use of oxygen at work is often a consideration when accommodating an employee with COPD. Besides compressed oxygen gas in a tank or cylinder, many portable and stationary concentrators are now available for use, making it easier for someone with COPD to use supplemental oxygen outside of the house. This could include work-related travel. Accommodations may need to be made to arrange for the transport of an employee’s oxygen when the employee is required to travel for work. This may include talking with hotels, airlines, and other facilities regarding what is needed for the employee to carry oxygen. Safety is always an important consideration with oxygen use, including accessing a safe electrical connection and keeping oxygen canisters and other devices away from an open flame. Often, an oxygen supply company will do an on-site visit regarding safe usage upon request.
For more information on how to have supplemental oxygen in the workplace, see: Oxygen Therapy Safety Tips: Preventing Fires and Other Accidents.
Other resources that might be helpful:
Because COPD can have such serious effects on an individual, it may also be linked to anxiety and depression. The lifestyle changes that accompany the disease cause physical as well as mental challenges. For more information on accommodations for individuals with anxiety and depression, see JAN’s Accommodation Information by Disability: A to Z. For additional information on accommodation ideas, contact JAN directly.
By: Tracie DeFreitas, Lead Consultant – ADA Specialist
The new “Who I Am” public service announcement from the Office of Disability Employment Policy’s Campaign for Disability Employment is now airing on television stations around the country. The PSA features nine people with disabilities who are not defined solely by their disability but instead by their many life roles — including working in jobs they love. The participants in the “Who I Am” PSA remind us that recognizing the value they add to the workplace fosters a work culture welcoming of the talents of all individuals. Fostering a work environment that is flexible and open to the talents of all qualified individuals, including those with disabilities, actually promotes workplace success for everyone.
What can YOU do to help promote inclusion and opportunities for people with disabilities in the workplace? Show your support by encouraging your local television stations to air the “Who I Am” PSA. “Who I Am” reminds us to see one another for who we are and what we can contribute. The PSA will positively impact television viewers and empower those with disabilities – especially those with non-apparent disabilities – to bring their whole selves to everything they do – including their work. The CDE invites you to encourage stations to air the PSA by sending a letter or e-mail to your local television stations. The CDE offers a template letter to make it easy.
While the “Who I Am” PSA is intended for television broadcast, the CDE would like to see the PSA and its important message distributed as widely as possible. To facilitate this outreach, everyone is encouraged to share the “Who I Am” PSA by accessing the PSA section of the Website. There are English and Spanish versions of the PSA available in both audio introduced and open captioned formats. Also, as part of the “Who I Am” Outreach Toolkit, the CDE will soon offer accompanying posters and discussion guides, which will include DVD copies of all PSA formats.
Another way to participate in the CDE’s effort is to promote inclusion by sharing the diverse factors that make you who YOU are. Whatever unique identities you bring with you to work each day, chances are you’ve drawn upon many of them to do your job better, whether consciously or not. Because everyone can add value to the workplace, the CDE has launched the Ask Me Who I Am public engagement effort, which asks everyone to use hashtag #WhoIAmPSA to share one or more of their diverse identities to demonstrate the various skills and talents all workers can contribute. Join the effort by sharing what factors make you who YOU are.
The Campaign for Disability Employment is a collaborative effort to promote positive employment outcomes for people with disabilities by encouraging employers and others to recognize the value and talent they bring to the workplace. Stay current on the CDE’s initiatives by following the Campaign for Disability Employment using Twitter and Facebook. To learn more about this campaign and to view this and other PSAs, visit the CDE Website.
By: Linda Batiste, Principal Consultant
For years, JAN consultants searched for an office chair that can elevate while a person is seated in the chair and that also has a braking system to prevent the chair from moving when a person is getting into or out of the chair. A chair with such features could be useful for employees with various motor impairments working in all sorts of jobs. For example:
A bank teller with multiple sclerosis uses a motorized scooter, but must work at a standing height. She needs to transfer into a chair and then raise up to the height of the teller workstation. The chair needs to stay in place while she is transferring, but then allow movement once she is seated.
A cashier with cerebral palsy and lower extremity limitations cannot stand for long periods, but has to work at a standing height. He cannot get up on a standing-height stool, plus he needs more support than offered by a stool; he needs an ergonomic chair that can raise him up to the proper height.
A little person works in an office setting with shared workspace. She needs a chair that will raise and lower her to average desk height while she is seated in the chair.
Happily, JAN consultants recently found a couple options for these types of accommodation situations:
The first is called the VELA Tango, which is a chair that has a both a locking mechanism to stabilize it as needed and a motorized lifting mechanism that operates with a person seated in the chair. If you want to see the chair in action, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cSQsBflJIU4.
The other option is an elevating office chair from Clark Medical. This one is basically a lift with an ergonomic chair attached. The company will also custom mount other chairs to the lift if preferred.
And if you know of any other office chairs that can be raised and lowered with a person seated in them, please let us know!
By: Sheryl Grossman, Consultant, Sensory Team
It’s that time again! With all the festivities at the end of the year, we may be tempted to bring in those leftovers or wear that new perfume, but what may seem like a nice gesture or harmless fun can turn deadly if someone in the workplace is allergic.
If your business has a fragrance-free policy in place, this is a good time to remind folks about it.
If your business does not currently have a policy, this may be a good time to institute one.
Sample policy language can be found at: Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Fragrance Sensitivity.
The additional following general policies may be good starting places:
1. Ensure that all employer controlled spaces are fragrance-free:
- Remove air fresheners from bathrooms
- Use only fragrance-free soaps in bathrooms and kitchens
- Provide hand lotion and hand sanitizer for employee use, ensuring only fragrance-free types are used
- Ensure frequent and appropriate cleaning of workspaces with fragrance-free/chemical-free cleaners
2. Ensure that all employer controlled maintenance, repair, and remodeling are fragrance/chemical-free:
- Use fragrance/chemical-free insecticide/pesticides
- Use fragrance/chemical-free industrial cleaning agents
- Use fragrance/chemical-free glues, sealants, waxes, and paints/stains
3. Ensure that all employer controlled spaces are free of known food allergens:
- Do not permit foods with known allergens onsite
- Provide all food on premises
- Provide ample off-time for lunches to be done offsite
- Provide designated, well-ventilated area for all food to be stored, prepared, and eaten
Additional information regarding accommodating people with fragrance/chemical sensitivities can be found on the JAN Website.
Additional information regarding accommodating people with food allergies can be found there as well.
Here’s wishing everyone a safe and happy rest of 2014 from the JAN family!
By: Melanie Whetzel – Lead Consultant, Cognitive/Neurological Team
Tailored Label Products, Inc. (TLP) is a manufacturer of custom labels and die cut adhesives located in Menomonee Falls, WI. TLP won a 2014 APSE award for being a visionary employer and leader who carries out the mission of APSE – which in simplest terms is inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace and community. Mike Erwin, CEO of TLP, agreed to answer a few questions for us about TLP’s award winning mentoring program. Melanie and Kim Cordingly were in Long Beach, CA, the night of the awards dinner to see Mike Erwin and his employee Patrick Young accept the award.
1. What was the APSE award about?
APSE is a national group focused on facilitating and advocating for the optimal employment of those with disabilities. One of our employees has an intellectual disability. This young man has become a well-respected spokesperson for the cause within our state.
2. On the benefits of the mentoring process, you stated that if the employees weren’t mentoring other employees, they would just be working. We love that comment!
A case in point … we allow employees to step up and act as a mentor and advocate for their personal development. We have had the most unlikely folks step up to make certain their fellow employee with a disability is successful in his ever increasing role. Some of our team members use traditional “motherly” skills to lay the groundwork for knowledge in the job. They have the INTUITION to see what will work for the employee at risk.
3. What are the biggest benefits this relationship provides to the mentors?
Our employees take greater personal pride in their workplace…for being allowed to step up and use soft skills that traditionally would not be applied this way in the workplace. They also take pride in the part they played in the individuals’ job/career development. The mentors develop more empathy for others as a result of this exposure.
4. How are mentors chosen? Do they come naturally from work relationships?
The employees have already displayed the passion for helping others. They inherently would be the best trainer in a particular department as well.
5. How did your mentoring program get started?
No plan…it was just thrust upon us. We had the opportunity to do the right thing in our first case with Patrick and it expanded from there.
6. What type of training do the mentors go through?
There is no class for this. We support those who possess on the job “trainer” behavior and exhibit the right kind of empathy skills as well as maturity and tenacity (patience)…all qualities you would want in any employee. We have had formal traditional coaching training for our crew and the mentoring is all part of deploying those skills.
7. Anything else you would like to include?
It is great to see Patrick evolve into “appropriate independence.” He is improving each day in so many ways. We are one of the components in his balanced life. EVERY workplace should have the goal to place at least one person with an intellectual disability in the workforce, or at least provide an opportunity to shadow and expose folks to a potential fit instead of prejudging and avoiding the “risk.” If folks could see the positive outcome in the workplace for stepping up and embracing the hiring of individuals with disabilities, including the soft-side benefits….more organizations would benefit. There is a big gap between wanting to help and easy access to those with the potential to learn and participate in the workplace. The rewards of this effort clearly outweigh any risk!
By: Teresa Goddard, Senior Consultant, Sensory Team
Recently, JAN’s Sensory Team has received a number of calls involving employees who are having difficulty purchasing or repairing hearing aids. Some employers choose to purchase hearing aids, but it is rare for them to have an obligation to do so as part of a workplace accommodation. Hearing aids are typically considered to be personal use items, meaning they are devices or equipment that are primarily for personal use and needed both on and off the job. Other examples of personal use items include wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs.
In the context of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the guidance on providing personal use items is not as clear-cut as it may seem at first. There are some rare situations in which an employer may need to consider providing something that would otherwise be considered a personal use item. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), equipment that is specifically designed or required to meet job-related rather than personal needs may be something that employers need to consider and provide, absent undue hardship, even if the item is something that would typically be seen as a personal use item. Likewise, employers may need to provide other reasonable accommodations to employees who are experiencing job-related limitations due to hearing loss, regardless of whether or not they obtain hearing aids on their own.
For more information about personal use items and the ADA, see the excerpt below:
From the ADA Technical Assistance Manual, Title I, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), III. THE REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION OBLIGATION, 3.4 Some Basic Principles of Reasonable Accommodation:
“An employer is not required to provide an accommodation that is primarily for personal use. Reasonable accommodation applies to modifications that specifically assist an individual in performing the duties of a particular job. Equipment or devices that assist a person in daily activities on and off the job are considered personal items that an employer is not required to provide. However, in some cases, equipment that otherwise would be considered “personal” may be required as an accommodation if it is specifically designed or required to meet job-related rather than personal needs.”
“For example: An employer generally would not be required to provide personal items such as eyeglasses, a wheelchair, or an artificial limb. However, the employer might be required to provide a person who has a visual impairment with glasses that are specifically needed to use a computer monitor. Or, if deep pile carpeting in a work area makes it impossible for an individual to use a manual wheelchair, the employer may need to replace the carpet, place a usable surface over the carpet in areas used by the employee, or provide a motorized wheelchair.”
Whether or not an employee acquires hearing aids, accommodations may be needed to ensure effective communication in the workplace. One type of equipment that may be useful as part of an accommodation for an employee with a hearing impairment is an assistive listening device such as an FM system, induction loop system, or an infrared system. These types of devices assist with listening by enabling the user to hear the voice of a speaker who is wearing a microphone by making their voice louder than the background noise in a room. The speaker talks into a microphone or transmitter and the listener either uses the T-switch on their hearing aid or wears a receiver designed to work with the specific assistive listening device. These devices can usually be used with other sound sources as well, such as radios and training videos.
Some assistive listening devices are very simple, and basically consist of a microphone, an amplifier, and an earpiece or headphone jack. Others are more complex. When selecting an assistive listening device, it is helpful to know whether or not the individual uses hearing aids or cochlear implants and if the aids or implants have any special features such as telecoils or Bluetooth connectivity. This will make a difference in the type of listening device that might work best for the employee. Often the employee’s audiologist will be able to provide information about the type of hearing aid as well as individualized equipment recommendations.
More information regarding assistive listening devices is available in JAN’s Searchable On-line Accommodation Resource (SOAR) section of the Website.
For a person with a hearing impairment, one typical workplace task that may require an accommodation is telephone use. Telephone amplification is one type of accommodation that JAN consultants often discuss with employers who are seeking to accommodate employees with hearing loss. This is particularly the case if the employees do not currently use hearing aids or prefer to remove their hearing aids when using the phone. There are many types of telephone amplification devices and choosing the right one for a particular employment setting can be a challenge. A qualified audiologist may be able to provide valuable individualized advice. I often suggest working with the individual and their treating medical providers when appropriate to find a customized solution.
One option I often suggest exploring is whether an amplifier that the employee can adjust on their own would meet their needs. Most people with hearing impairments can hear some types of sounds or frequencies better than others. No telephone amplifier is as customizable or adjustable as a hearing aid, fitted by a qualified audiologist. However, one example of a telephone amplifier with easily adjustable volume across multiple frequencies is the Speech Adjust-a-Tone from Hearsay. This device has six sliders which can be used to adjust the volume of sounds ranging from bass, mid, to treble. Some individuals with hearing aids can also benefit from this product since it can be used with a neck loop. It can also be used with certain types of headsets as well as with a bone-conducting transducer. Since there are multiple models of this product, it may be helpful to consult the manufacturer or a vendor to see which might work best in your setting. You can find more information on telephone amplification on the JAN Website.
If an employee needs assistance purchasing hearing aids, he/she may wish to apply for services through their state Office of Vocational Rehabilitation Services.
There are also organizations that provide hearing aid funding assistance, or refurbished hearing aids, based upon financial need. You can find information about hearing aid funding sources for individuals on the JAN Website.
It is also important to remember that even if an employee obtains hearing aids, the employer may need to consider equipment-related accommodations in order for the employee to use their hearing aids effectively at work. Additional information on accommodation ideas for employees who are deaf or hard of hearing is also available on the JAN Website.
By: Kim Cordingly, Lead Consultant
On August 5, 2014, JAN presented a Webcast entitled Best Practices – Employment and Service Dogs: Perspectives from Assistance Dog Experts during International Assistance Dog Week featuring assistance (or “service”) dog experts Dr. Margaret Glenn and Marcie Davis. For those who missed the original Webcast, this presentation is now archived and available in the training section of JAN’s Website.
This is the second installment of a two-part series on the increasingly important role of assistance dogs in the workplace and best practices that support both employee and employer.
Dr. Margaret Glenn is an associate professor in the rehabilitation counseling program at West Virginia University. In addition to her teaching and administrative responsibilities, her research interests include substance abuse and addiction; alternative health care practices; effective counseling strategies for vocational counselors; and integrative medical and mental health care. In 2012, Glenn was awarded the Switzer Distinguished Disability and Rehabilitation Research Fellowship by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research to conduct an exploratory study of assistance dog partnerships in the workplace.
In our conversation, Glenn described her interest in assistance dogs as something that developed organically — partly from a desire to branch out into other areas of research, the need for more information on this topic, and a personal interest in the positive role dogs play in our lives. Little academic research has been done on the use of assistance dogs in the workplace and what factors come into play to make it work successfully from the standpoint of both employer and employee. As an increasing number of people with disabilities seek the support of assistance dogs both in public spaces and workplaces, Glenn felt there needed to be a wider conversation addressing both the benefits and concerns about these arrangements, particularly in the employment arena.
The research from her one-year study is documented in the journal article An Exploratory Study of the Elements of Successful Service Dog Partnerships in the Workplace published in 2013. Glenn’s study explores the research question, “What elements are present in the process of creating service dog partnerships in the workplace.” Based on our conversation and this article, I’d like to highlight a few important takeaways that particularly impact effective employment arrangements.
- Assistance (service) dogs have greatly expanded their “jobs” beyond assisting those with seeing and hearing impairments to include medical response (such as alerting someone to low blood sugar), mobility and task assistance for a person using a wheelchair, psychiatric support for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), to name a few. Many of these functions may be for an individual with a hidden disability.
- Dog partnerships in the workplace is new territory for many employers and Glenn highlights anecdotal concerns such as employees with allergies, potential disruption in the workplace, liability issues, a pet being called a service animal when it is not, and daily logistics such as dog relief areas.
- There is frequently confusion between the different titles of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) concerning service dogs. Title II and III require covered entities to permit service animals in public spaces. However, Title I (the employment provisions) applies to the workplace and does not require employers per se to allow employees to bring service dogs to work. Instead, the use of service animals is a form of reasonable accommodation under the ADA. Therefore, when an employee asks to bring a service animal to work, the employer should engage in an interactive process with the employee to determine, on a case by case basis, whether the service animal will be allowed.
- Glenn’s research seeks to establish a “baseline” of what components are present in successful dog partnerships in the workplace from the perspective of various stakeholders including service dog trainers, individuals with disabilities partnered with service dogs, and vocational rehabilitation counselors. She points out that a limitation of the study was the absence of employer participation despite seeking their input. Anecdotally, Glenn shared with me a conversation she had with a personal contact (and employer) concerning how he would respond to a service animal in his workplace. She was surprised at the misunderstandings and apprehension surrounding service animal use, but found after a candid conversation on the subject, he recognized the profound benefits.
- Participants in Glenn’s research identified 68 elements they felt were germane to successful dog partnerships. These elements were clustered under the following categories: (1) dog preparation, (2) monitoring, (3) employee competence, (4) legal knowledge, (5) information and education, and (6) coworker preparation.
While not all of these items can be discussed here, a sample of “brainstormed” elements generated by participants include:
– Under dog preparation:
The dog is well behaved; controlled by vocal command.
The service dog has received training appropriate for the specific workplace.
– Under monitoring:
The person who is bringing the dog into the workplace must take responsibility for the dog’s behavior and reinforce appropriate boundaries with colleagues.
The dog’s ability to be invisibly present at work.
– Under employee competence:
The employee or job applicant is able to articulate the specific job related and supportive task(s) that will include the service dog.
For those already working, having a discussion with the employer as part of the decision to obtain a service dog.
– Under legal knowledge:
An informed understanding of the employer’s legal responsibilities and rights related to the decisions associated with a service dog team in the workplace.
A procedure for establishing options in response to coworkers who are allergic to animals.
– Under information and education:
The knowledge that service dogs in the workplace break down barriers and facilitate positive social interactions and workplace relationships.
The involvement of vocational rehabilitation counselors and resources to assist both the business and individual in the modification or adaptation of the workplace.
– Under coworker preparation:
The establishment and respecting of boundaries for the service dog, handler, coworkers, and customers.
A tone set by the supervisor that values and appreciates what a service dog team brings to the employment setting, modeling for the entire workforce.
- The study participants identified the item(s) with the highest importance as those associated with the monitoring cluster, which focused on paying attention to behavior and task completion, care, and hygiene in the workplace to prevent any problems. This also reinforces an ongoing process of either formal or informal assessment with the goal of ensuring a successful workplace partnership.
- As mentioned earlier, Glenn’s research participants outline 68 elements stakeholders felt were important to successful dog partnerships. She writes, “…the service dog partnership is successful when all operate within guidelines that provide recommendations for all concerned.” She goes on to say, “The benefits appear to be many and outweigh any potential barriers, with the right mix of information and innovation on the part of employers and employees alike.”
One interesting point Glenn mentioned was that having an assistance dog does identify you in the workplace as an individual with a disability. Because issues of disclosure can be complicated for an individual with a disability, this might be an issue to consider. Lastly, Glenn noted the expanding role of service dogs for certain constituencies – particularly disabled veterans returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with PTSD, brain injuries, and mobility impairments.
Continued research on the expanding role of assistance dog partnerships in the workplace will play an important role in understanding how to make them work effectively and enhance employment success for employees and employers alike.
Glenn, M. (2013). Exploratory study of the elements of successful service dog use in the workplace. ISRN Rehabilitation, Volume 2013.
JAN’s Accommodation and Compliance Series: Service Animals in the Workplace
JAN Webcast: Best Practices – Employment and Service Dogs: Perspectives from Assistance Dog Experts
Working Like Dogs
International Assistance Dog Week
Working Like Dogs: The Service Dog Guidebook
Service Dog Etiquette