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
By: Daniel Tucker, Consultant
With the recent tragic loss of legendary actor and comedian Robin Williams, there has been much discussion surrounding mental health issues and depression in particular. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), in 2012 approximately 16 million adults had suffered at least one major depressive episode in the past year, representing just under 7 percent of all adults in the United States. JAN frequently receives calls from various individuals concerning employees with depression in the workplace, so we wanted to touch on some basic information and resources people may find helpful.
There are a variety of depressive disorders according to the DSM-5 (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Generally, symptoms of depressive disorders include prolonged feelings of sadness, loss of interest in most or all activities, and difficulty concentrating, and can also include loss of appetite, insomnia, and feelings of worthlessness, among other symptoms. An individual diagnosed with a depressive disorder will meet the definition of disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in most cases.
Due to the symptoms mentioned above, employees with depression may have difficulty performing job tasks and meeting performance and conduct standards. However, with the proper accommodations and support, employees can continue to work successfully. Typical accommodations include allowing leave for treatment, including doctor appointments; taking steps to reduce distractions and stress; providing praise and positive reinforcement; and permitting the employee to take breaks as needed. In many cases, providing a schedule modification in the form of a flexible schedule or later start time, providing additional unpaid breaks, and removing or modifying marginal job functions can be helpful as well. As always, effective accommodations must be determined on a case by case basis as every situation is unique.
For more accommodation ideas and information, you can visit JAN’s resources for individuals with depression. You can also visit our other mental health publications. If you have any questions regarding depression and workplace accommodations, please feel free to contact JAN for individualized assistance.
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) (2014, August 20). Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/statistics/1mdd_adult.shtml.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
National Alliance on Mental Illness
Disability.gov – Mental Health
By: Kim Cordingly, Lead Consultant
On August 5, 2014, JAN presented a Webcast 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 beginning this week in the training section of JAN’s Website.
In honor of Assistance Dog Week, I had the privilege of speaking with both Glenn and Davis about their personal experiences, as well as their knowledge of effective practices that help successfully integrate assistance dogs into the workplace – Marcie from the perspective of a person partnered with an assistance dog and Margaret from the perspective of an academic researcher. This will be the first 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.
Many of us have had the experience of being in an environment where we don’t expect to see a dog, first wondering if it’s a very well behaved pet, then realizing it’s a working dog – providing services to an individual with a disability. Recently, I was in a department store with my family when an individual who was blind entered with his assistance dog, along with a friend he was shopping with. We were in the line to make our purchase when they got in the line behind us. Because the man had a visible disability, my mother and sister understood the role of the assistance dog; still, they were not sure what to do. As a family of dog lovers, they wanted to talk to and pet the dog. I think that’s how many people feel – not sure what to do – how to behave – what is appropriate. It’s a new situation. The circumstances become more confusing when an assistance dog is partnered with an individual with an invisible disability such as epilepsy or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The service these dogs provide to these individuals is no less important, but we may not know what the function of the dog is, which may be to alert a person to an oncoming seizure or to provide emotional support to a veteran experiencing residual trauma. This is why education is key to both understanding the role of assistance animals and their expanding role in the lives of people with disabilities, particularly in the workplace.
While we’ve become more accustomed to encountering assistance dogs in public spaces, in workplace settings, the presence of an assistance dog as an accommodation is more unfamiliar and complex. Margaret writes in her recent journal article An Exploratory Study of the Elements of Successful Service Dog Partnerships in the Workplace, “…many people with significant disabilities are seeking entry into the workplace with their animals in an effort to allow themselves to benefit from the more normal rhythm of life afforded to others. That is creating a challenge for employers and employees alike as they navigate the legal and social implications of animals in the workplace and work to understand the validity of their service.” International Assistance Dog Week was established by Davis with multiple goals — to honor the role assistance dogs play in the lives of human partners with disabilities, to raise awareness and educate the public about the role these dogs perform in expanding the quality of life for the individuals they’re partnered with, and to recognize the heroic deeds these dogs perform for individuals and in their communities. For effective workplace practices, the education piece is critical.
Marcie Davis – Business Owner, Advocate, Writer, and Human Partner to Her Dog Whistle
Davis is an assistance dog expert, founder of International Assistance Dog Week, author of the book Working Like Dogs: The Assistance Dog Guidebook, creator of the Website Working Like Dogs, and host of the radio show Working Like Dogs Radio.
When I spoke to Davis, I wanted to get an idea about her 20-year relationship with the various assistance dogs she has been partnered with over the years, particularly in a workplace context. Davis says unequivocally that having her first assistance dog changed her life completely – both in terms of daily life and in her career progression. She said that once partnered, with the independence it afforded her, career opportunities began to open up in a way they hadn’t before. Her assistance dog became an integral part of how she lived her life. She emphasized it’s a unique relationship – you’re with the dog 24 hours a day – you develop a bond and trust that has to be a two way street. She also pointed out that having a dog requires work, the training needs to be ongoing, and it’s necessary to meet the needs of the dog as well as your own. It necessitates mutual love and respect – you have to learn from one another.
Even though assistance dogs are very well trained prior to their placement, like all living beings, issues can and do arise. Davis recounts an instance with her current dog Whistle, when in training, was exposed to a gas explosion in an adjacent building. As a result, he had flashbacks related to noise that emerged in certain situations – particularly airline travel. Flying was a necessary activity for Davis who speaks internationally and travels frequently. She explained that it was necessary to bring a trainer into that particular situation to work with Whistle under those specific circumstances in order to resolve his fears. Every dog and human are different, so Davis points out that each relationship with her dogs has been unique. A reciprocal relationship means that you respect these differences and build from there. As a result, your partnered dog will want to work for you leading to an incredible relationship.
What makes for a good working dog? Davis describes a good working dog as there and attuned, but not to be seen – tucked in but always there. She describes how initially in business situations her clients would be aware of the dog, because it was something new, but after a while, they would forget the dog was even there. In a way, she said he would be like any assistive device, there enabling tasks to be carried out. Whistle accompanying Davis is no longer something she thinks about as optional; he is an integral part of her work life and goes where she goes. She described in her consulting business a potential client who wanted to hire her, but objected to the dog being on site at their facility. For Davis, this was non-negotiable. When she explained more to the client the role Whistle played for her, the issue was quickly resolved. They even requested training for their managers about the role of assistance dogs. Davis described this as a “teachable moment.”
When I asked what advice she would give to individuals with assistance dogs and employers, she emphasized that communication is THE key. Each conversation will be different for everyone, but she stressed there needs to an open, honest dialogue. Education about the important role of service dogs in people’s work lives is essential. Davis’ Website was developed as a resource for individuals with assistance dogs, dog trainers, and employers to address many of these issues. The site features Blog posts highlighting effective human-dog partnerships in various workplace settings. A recent Blog post features Kathy Taylor who is hearing impaired and her dog Janet. Kathy works in the field as a system design engineer and travels to various customer sites. While traveling together by car, Janet accompanies her and is able to alert her to police and emergency sirens, tornado warnings, and other auditory cues by nudging her. Janet will let her know when the morning alarm goes off or if a fire alarm goes off at night.
As an advocate for the positive role assistance dogs can play in the lives of people with disabilities at work and at home, Davis’ love and respect for her own dog told the whole story. Whistle will be retiring soon and each transition Davis recounted sounded difficult for both dog and human. These are working dogs who need to be engaged and on task much of the time, so retirement is necessary after a period of time. But the love and relationship does not end with retirement. This devotion is part of the reciprocal partnership between dog and human.
In our next Blog, we’ll discuss Glenn’s research on successful dog partnerships 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
Marcie Davis’ Biography
Service Dog Etiquette
JAN’s Accommodation and Compliance Series: Service Animals in the Workplace
Glenn, M. (2013). Exploratory study of the elements of successful service dog use in the workplace. ISRN Rehabilitation, Volume 2013.
The JAN Team focuses on technology – new and old – and its possible applications in accommodating people with disabilities in the workplace.
Lyssa Rowan, New Media Assistant
One of the most talked-about trends with today’s technology is wearables – technological devices that you wear as part of your clothing or accessories. One example of these is Google Glass. JAN has had a chance to take a look at Glass to see how it could be used as a type of assistive technology (AT). While it’s a newer product and is in active development, we’ve seen apps that include voice recognition for real-time captioning of conversations, heads-up GPS navigation, timers, presentation assistance, and many more – there’s a lot of potential here. Look for more tidbits coming soon!
Melanie Whetzel, Senior Consultant, Cognitive/Neurological Team
Trying to keep up with all of the new apps is virtually impossible. There are apps for just about anything these days, and knowing which ones are worthwhile can be quite difficult. Listed below are a few apps that individuals with mental health impairments may find beneficial:
Bipolar Disorder Connect helps individuals with bipolar disorder to stay connected with a large growing community of people living with the same diagnosis. It’s the place to discuss treatments, start conversations, and learn from others.
CBT Calm helps assess stress levels, provides relaxation skills, and contains links to online resources for stress and anxiety.
DBT Diary Card and Skills Coach is a resource of self-help skills, reminders of therapy principles, and coaching tools for coping.
Operation Reach Out is a free intervention tool that helps people who are having suicidal thoughts to reassess their thinking and get help. Also helps those who are concerned about the safety of others.
WhatsMyM3 provides a reliable gauge to determine if users exhibit symptoms of various mental health impairments, then monitors moods and tracks mental health over time.
Linda Batiste, Principal Consultant
I recently read about a new technology for runners that also can help people with vision impairments navigate their environment. The product is from a company called Lechal and is basically a Bluetooth-enabled shoe or insole with haptic feedback vibrations that tell you which direction to go. For those of you who aren’t tech-savvy, haptic feedback just means that the device provides some kind of physical sensation to tell you something, like vibrating a certain way to tell you to turn right. According to an article in Boston Magazine, “the shoes and insoles—customers can choose between the two—rely on Bluetooth technology to connect to a person’s smartphone, and can map out the route to their destination, guiding them with the buzzing feelings on their feet along the way.”
The best thing about this product and the people who designed it is that they plan to help people with vision impairments get the shoes. One of the inventors told Boston Magazine that “for every pair of shoes that someone that isn’t visually impaired buys, another pair would be subsidized for a person that’s blind. Because that is the people who we started this for.”
This product might also help people with cognitive impairments who have difficulty getting around independently. Pretty cool!
Beth Loy, Principal Consultant
Lily Born, an 11-year old granddaughter, designed something called the Kangaroo Cup for her grandfather who has Parkinson’s Disease. Lily wanted to help her grandfather, who had trouble drinking from other cups, keep from spilling his drinks. The three-legs of the cup help stabilize it to make it harder to knock over. Individuals with Parkinson’s disease can have fine motor limitations such as tremors and a loss of strength in their hands. Check out the JAN Website for more accommodation ideas for individuals with Parkinson’s disease.
Lisa Dorinzi, Consultant, Motor/Mobility Team
I learned about Telorion Vox at the 2014 Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference (CSUN). Telorion Vox makes select smart phones accessible to low vision and blind users. The device comes with software that features voice recognition, screen reading and optical character recognition (OCR) capabilities, and talking GPS. There are built- in features such as a color detector and light sensors as well.
The software is integrated with the phone’s platform, but it also comes with accessible applications such as alarms, an agenda, weather information, and voice memos.
Along with the software, it comes with a removable keypad overlay that gives the user points of reference on the screen. The overlay also serves as a key guard, which could be beneficial for users with tremors.
Elisabeth Simpson, Senior Consultant, Sensory Team
AT in higher education is often a vital part of a student with a disability’s success in the classroom. Technology advancements have brought about AT equipment that is portable, user-friendly, and multifunctional. For students with a vision impairment, deciphering text on handouts or other print material distributed during class can be difficult. Professors and instructors may modify lecture slides as the class progresses, write notes on a whiteboard or Smart board, or reference a video as part of the instruction. Without AT, students with a vision impairment could be missing information necessary for class participation activities and exams.
Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology and video magnification are two types of AT that a student with a vision impairment may benefit from using in the classroom. OCR allows people with a vision impairment to scan printed text and receive a synthetic speech output or save it to a computer.
Optical Character Recognition (OCR) has three factors: scanning, recognition, and reading text. First a camera scans the printed document. Next, OCR software converts the image into recognizable characters/words. Then the user can store the information in electronic form to a computer or the OCR system itself. Video magnifiers vary in size, as well as magnification level, and use a camera to project a magnified image onto a computer monitor, television monitor, or other type of video monitor.
Some AT devices, such as the MagniLink S and the SmartView Graduate combine OCR and video magnification. With this, one AT can be used in a class for both reading printed material and for distance viewing. In addition to the camera scanning printed text, the student can tilt the camera head to the appropriate position for viewing a whiteboard or smart board. The images on the board are then displayed on the student’s laptop where color, contrast, and magnification settings can be adjusted.
It is important to note that each individual’s needs are different and what works for one student with a vision impairment may not work for another. Accommodations should be determined on a case-by-case basis. For more information about accommodations related to a vision impairment, check out JAN’s Website.
Sheryl Grossman, Consultant, Motor/Mobility Team
I have two technologies I’d like to highlight for Blog readers.
The first is an oldy but goody — the Logitech T-CD2-6F TrackMan Stationary Mouse. For those with very little arm/hand movement, this stationary trackball can be fixed to a specific location and allow for angled use of the selection part without changing the hand/finger position again.
A technology less often discussed — for those who have a private office and need a quick getaway to a private restroom, having a built-in, concealable commode that fits in with the office décor can make a huge difference for some individuals with disabilities. Check out the following Websites for more information: http://www.whitehallmfg.com/patient-care-units and http://www.metcraftindustries.com/Catalog/Hospitals/Swing-a-Way.pdf.
Kim Cordingly, Lead Consultant, Self-Employment Team
In working with individuals with disabilities interested in self-employment and small business development, where and how to market a new product frequently comes up in our conversations. This led me to locating a product Website called The Grommet. The site helps launch new and innovative products – some with very practical applications and others just for fun.
Recently, one product in particular caught my eye – the AirPhysics Hands-Free Hair Dryer. This hair dryer is not shaped in the traditional “gun” design, but has a more “ergo friendly” shape — sits straight up and down and can rest on a counter.
Jeffrey the inventor who is a hairstylist himself writes, “This hands-free hair dryer was created in order to prevent the painful wrist, shoulder, and neck injuries that have been attributed to traditional gun-type hair dryers. We originally created this hands-free method of drying for use in our own salon, and we’re thrilled to be able to offer it to all of you for use in your own home.”
I was talking to the hairstylist I use about fatigue and repetitive strain issues, and he said most professional stylists reach a point in their career when they’ll no longer be able to do their jobs due to the repeated motions of cutting, pulling, styling, grasping, and so on. He said for those stylists who are self-employed, your income is based on how many clients you are able to serve each day, so the impetus is to see as many clients as possible – hence, more repetition and risk of injury.
The potential applications for this dryer are numerous not only for those contemplating a career as a hair stylist who may need this type of accommodation, but also for those veterans in the field who may be able to extend their careers by reducing strain. This dryer can also serve as an accommodation for home use.
You can read more about The Grommet and view their interesting product selection on their Website.