By: Kim Cordingly, Lead Consultant – Self-Employment Team
Many JAN customers contact us with an interest in starting a food related business.
Below is a sample of the type of food businesses we have been contacted about:
- Food truck or concession
- Cottage food product (such as homemade jams, cookies, breads, and so on) –typically sold at a farmer’s market, local shop, or online
- Catering service
- Coffee/tea cart
- Fruit/vegetable stand
- Consumer supported agriculture (CSA) – subscribing to receive produce from a local farm throughout their growing season
- Cupcake shop
- Limited or full service restaurant or bakery
While the scale of planning requirements and applicable food laws and regulations involved for each of these businesses can be quite different, we’ve included below some general tips that can be instrumental in making any food related venture successful.
Tip 1: Take the time from the outset to research your business idea in the context of your local community and potential market
JAN is located in Morgantown, WV – a medium sized college town with a large public university and many coffee drinkers. Theoretically, opening a coffee shop seems like a sure bet in a town like this. Yet over the years, many coffee shops have come and gone, while a small number have endured. Why? Bad coffee? No parking? Too pricey? If you are considering opening a coffee shop, an important step is to map this market – both historically and now. Which markets are being filled and which are not? What makes what you will offer different, better, cheaper or more desirable? I remember when it was considered to be a competitive edge to have Wifi access. Now this is available in almost any coffee shop, fast food restaurant, or bookstore. My point is that whatever your business idea – even before you embark on a formal business or marketing planning process – get to know your local community and potential market well.
Tip 2: Start small, test your ideas, then scale up
You have a dream of opening a small storefront bakery selling breads, cakes, muffins, and pies. You’ve been baking your whole life and inherited a number of wonderful family recipes you’d like to use. But where to start? Even with a small shop, the initial costs appear daunting – rent, commercial cooking equipment, baking ingredients, insurance, advertising, and so on. If you’ve ever watched the Food Network TV show Cupcake Wars, you may have noticed some of these expert bakers do not have their own storefront shops yet. They are either making their products in their home; in a rented commercial kitchen space; at a culinary incubator; as a business within an already established business; or another creative arrangement. The reason for this is it gives the entrepreneur the chance to start small and test their product ideas without the huge capital investment. This also gives you the chance to build up a client base, establish local business and financial relationships, and then scale up your operation. For example, you might begin by investing in a booth at the local farmer’s market and sell baked goods there. Further down the road, you might advertise at the booth being available to cater parties and special events. You might also make an arrangement to sell baked goods at the local food coop or coffee shops. Through this process, you are collecting data about what works and what doesn’t – what types of muffins are most popular — refining not only recipes but your own vision for your future storefront bakery.
Tip 3: Learn the state and local regulations and laws that apply to your food business
Producing food products commercially whether in a food truck, home kitchen, or restaurant are governed by strict laws and regulations that ensure sanitary standards and the safety of products sold to customers. You need to know what laws and regulations will apply to your business. Some businesses may require special permits – such as those operating a food truck or a business in the home. Organizations such as a local your Small Business Development Center, a Women’s Business Center, or your state extension service are often a good place to start. Your state Department of Agriculture will also have information about food related businesses. Many will also have guides about starting a food related business such as this one available for food entrepreneurs in Pennsylvania.
Some states have passed Cottage Food Laws, which Harvard University’s Food Law and Policy Clinic defines in its publication Cottage Food Laws in the United States (2013) as:
At their most basic, cottage food laws permit the in‐home production and sale of non‐potentially hazardous foods. As of the publication of this report, forty‐two states had some sort of cottage food law, and nine states, including Washington, D.C., did not. Although more than two‐thirds of states have cottage food laws, there is no uniformity among the laws. Some states restrict home‐based food processing activities to a very narrow category of processors (such as on‐farm only). Others cap allowable sales at a low amount, such that in‐home processing activities can only be a hobby and not a viable business or launching pad for a more traditional food processing business. Some cottage food laws are relatively easy to find in the states’ laws and have clear requirements, while other states’ cottage food laws are difficult to find and may not clearly state the requirements for a cottage food operation.
These laws will vary by state, but may also be guided by additional regulations at the city level, such as these in the City of Chicago. You will need to do your research to find out what laws, regulations, or permits will apply to your business.
Tip 4: Build any needed accommodations into the design of your business and test them out
This tip is certainly not exclusive to a food business, but can be very important particularly with accommodations that involve food related work environments such as kitchens, food trucks, shops, or farmer’s markets, as examples. JAN consultants can suggest specific accommodation examples and products, but some potential examples in the food industry may include:
From the JAN’s Searchable Online Accommodation Resource (SOAR):
Gripping or Pinching Tools or Objects – This could apply to cooking utensils such ergonomic knives; reachers to eliminate bending; or specialized baking equipment.
Sitting – This could include anti-fatigue mats for those who need to need to be on their feet all day; headsets that free up hands for cooking; or copyholders that could also hold recipes.
Moving, Carrying, or Lifting Materials or People – Lifting devices to move large food products; motorized carts for use when catering; or eating aids.
Food related business ideas are increasingly popular for JAN customers. We’ve highlighted a few tips that can help in the development of these types of businesses. For more specific information about becoming a food entrepreneur, contact JAN directly and we would be happy to put together individualized resources for you.
By: Melanie Whetzel, Lead Consultants – Cognitive/Neurological Team
While some of you may be familiar with the two dyslexia fonts highlighted below, many may not be aware of the specifics of how they can assist as reading improvement tools. Several of our JAN staff learned more about these fonts while attending the 2016 CSUN Conference — 31st Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference held at California State University Northridge in San Diego a couple of weeks ago.
Both of the following fonts have been shown to be highly effective in improving reading skills for many people with dyslexia by helping to better differentiate between letters, aiding in the reading process.
Here’s a brief look at how they work:
Dyslexie uses a heavier, bolder line thickness that emphasizes the bottom of most letters. This anchors the letters and helps prevent substituting, rotating, and flipping of letters. The Dyslexie font is designed so that every letter has its own unique form. Some differences between the Dyslexie font and others are slanted lines, weighted bottoms, larger openings in the letters, such as a, e, and c. The ascending stems of letters like f and h have been made taller, as well as the descending tails of letters such as p, q, and y. The spacing between letters and words is increased to prevent crowding. The capital letters and punctuation marks are bolder so that it is easier to identify the beginning and ending of sentences.
OpenDyslexic is a font also created to increase readability for individuals with dyslexia. The typeface includes regular, bold, italic, and bold-italic styles. OpenDyslexic is created to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. Letters have heavily weighted bottoms to indicate direction. Readers are able to quickly figure out which part of the letter is down, aiding in letter recognition, and helping keep the brain from rotating them around. Consistently weighted bottoms can also help reinforce the line of text. The unique shapes of each letter can help prevent confusion through flipping and swapping. OpenDyslexic is being continually updated and improved based on input from users with dyslexia.
If you or someone you know has dyslexia, be sure to check out both Dyslexie and OpenDyslexic to see how effective they might be!
For information on Accommodation Ideas for Learning Disabilities, visit our JAN Website.
According to Autism Speaks, people all over the globe will wear blue and light up their communities for World Autism Awareness Day tomorrow, April 2, 2016.
Autism Speaks is the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization, dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. Autism Speaks shares this information: Autism is a lifelong condition. In fact, each year 50,000 children with autism transition to adulthood. Many of them are capable of going on to meaningful employment and living on their own. But they need more employment opportunities and housing and residential supports. Autism Speaks continues to work with public and private partners to ensure people with autism successfully transition to adulthood. Together we can make a difference in the lives of people with autism by accepting their many gifts and recognizing the challenges they can face. Autism currently affects 1 in 68 people — these are our loved ones, friends and neighbors. We owe it to them on April 2, and every other day of the year, to make the world a more understanding place. So let’s Light It Up Blue together and shine a global spotlight on autism!
JAN is contributing to the celebration of autism awareness by helping to shed light on autism in the workplace. We have several publications of note that will help in this area. Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Autism Spectrum Disorder shares various accommodation ideas for impairments that may be associated with ASD such as issues of change, stress management, social skills, and processing sensory stimuli. We also have a Consultants’ Corner: Interviewing Tips for Applicants with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) that can be helpful to applicants when they are looking towards employment and contemplating disclosure and accommodation. Applicants will gain insights on how to be prepared and represent themselves to a prospective employer in the best possible way. JAN also provides contact information on resources that may prove helpful as well.
Check out the JAN staff wearing the autism awareness colors!
By: Sheryl Grossman, Consultant – Motor Team
February 18, 2016, will be forever etched into my brain. This was the day when approximately 130 Jewish disability rights advocates convened in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building to discuss where we as a community have been, and where we need to go.
My work at JAN is greatly informed by my Jewish tradition, where we find the work of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Charity, 10:7-14) who stated that “the highest level of tzedakah [righteous act, often mistranslated as charity] is helping one help themselves,” or “setting one up in business rather than providing for someone,” or more commonly, “teaching one to fish, rather than giving one a fish.” It was important, and humbling as someone working in the field of work-related disability accommodations to see this be included in the wide array of topics seen as normal in Jewish Community.
As the day’s events unfolded, we received a great history lesson from featured speaker Judy Heumann, Special Advisor for International Disability Rights. This was enhanced by comments later in the day from Chai Feldblum, Commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) who was present during the writing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and is familiar with how the “religious exemption” (where under Title III of the ADA, religious entities are exempt from having to make their public access facilities accessible) came to be.
The main event of the day centered around four panelists discussing the future of our movement:
Dr. John Winer of the Jewish Association for Developmental Disabilities talked about making the experience of disability normalized in the community. “People with intellectual disabilities have the right to housing, to an occupation, and to feeling like productive members of society. We need to do the right thing by being beneficent,” he said. “No individual wants to feel like they are a chesed project [charity case].”
Sheila Katz, vice president for social entrepreneurship at Hillel International stressed the need for organizations to be open and transparent about not knowing what they do not know. She shared the vision for Hillel going forward to actively engage Jewish students with a disability in an effort to ensure greater inclusion in campus life, including religious activities.
Aaron Kaufman senior legislative associate at the Jewish Federations of North America made a great point about the fact that some pieces of the inclusion puzzle do cost money, but if we prioritize inclusion, we will find a way to pay for it. This really resonated with me: building a mikveh [ritual bath] costs money, but if the community wants it to happen, we find a way to pay for it. So too with inclusion Aaron pointed out.
Ruti Regan, co-founder of Anachnu, an organization that teaches the Torah from a disability perspective hit the nail on the head by visually demonstrating how an action has a very different connotation in different contexts that are learned behaviors in society. An example she used was that a person with a developmental disability may display a behavior of rocking back and forth – this being perceived as a “problem” or deviation from a norm. In a different context, a person in prayer might be rocking back and forth and this is perceived as devout behavior. Her point was that we need to become aware of how we prescribe meaning (good or bad) to the same behaviors based on the context.
Comments from Shane Feldman, Lauren Tuchman, and Liz Weintraub, amongst others highlighted improvements that have been made and concerns for issues that still need much attention.
All in all, it was an energizing day that I feel sure will just be a springboard for more good inclusion work to come. Many thanks to the White House staff who made this event happen: Matt Nosanchuk and Maria Town – both from the Office of Public Engagement.
By: Melanie Whetzel, Lead Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team
After the long, dark, and cold winter, we yearn for spring. We look forward to warmth, flowers, birdsong, and spending time outdoors. We also look forward to the opportunity to spring clean our homes, workspaces, and classrooms. What better time to get rid of clutter and lighten up? It would be a much easier task if it were one we kept up with throughout the year, but most of us find that difficult to do.
While for some of us messiness may be a routine annoyance, for employees with organizational difficulties as a result of attention deficit disorder (ADD), cognitive issues and/or fatigue due to cancer treatments, fibromyalgia, brain injury, multiple sclerosis (MS), or other impairments, creating and maintaining order may be especially challenging.
For those of you who work from home, you may find it even more difficult to keep up with the clutter in your work space. Maybe the fact that you don’t have co-workers who can see your mess makes it easier to let it go and let it grow! There is also the chance at home that items not belonging in your office have an easier time migrating there.
Regardless of whether you work in a classroom, an office, a cubicle, or a home office, reducing the disarray in your workspace may very well increase your sense of professionalism and productivity. Look to the following tips for help in organizing your workspace and reducing your clutter to a more manageable level.
- Don’t become overwhelmed when you look at the area about to be cleaned. Take heart! Be brave!
- Start from one side of the room, area, or desk and move in a path to the opposite side.
- Remove rarely used tools and gadgets from your desk top and drawers. Place them in a storage area that is convenient for when you do need them. Label areas for easy retrieval.
- Do you have books that you rarely use? Remove those to storage as well. If you haven’t used a particular book within the last 60-90 days, it is probably not something you need to have at your fingertips.
- If you are a collector of whatnots and trinkets, consider limiting the number you display on your desk at a time. Put the others into storage and plan to rotate them in and out for a fresh new look.
- If you have extra furniture in your space that is not needed, consider removing it. It may create more surface area that allows you to collect even more clutter.
- Think about hanging photos of your family, sports teams, etc., on the walls instead of having them take up desk space.
- If you have a mountain of paperwork, go through it with only three categories in mind: things to act on, things to file, and things to toss.
- Color-code files to help identify them with ease.
- Invest in stackable bins or trays for papers. Label them.
- Use a bulletin or magnetic board to keep often-used items, schedules, or policies / procedures within eyesight. If you are a person who likes to collect photos, cards, or whatever, consider having one board for work use and one for personal use.
- Have a trash can handy while opening mail. Toss absolutely everything that does not need to be responded to or remembered.
- If your office recycles paper, have a tray handy for that. Take to the larger recycling area at least weekly.
- Arrange the items on your desk and in your office according to how you use them. Your desk and surrounding office / cubicle space may look different if you are left-handed, for example.
- Having an efficient usable workspace isn’t about it looking good, it’s more about the space being functional for you and your needs in your particular job.
- Try to reserve 10 minutes at the end of each day to put things away, clear off your workspace, and prepare for the next day.
You can take charge and control your clutter by not allowing it to accumulate. Then when spring rolls around, you may be able to spend more time enjoying the flowers, the birds, and the outdoors!
By: Sarah Small, Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team
This year, The National Sleep Foundation will celebrate Sleep Awareness Week starting March 6th. The hope is to spread awareness of the importance of sleep to our health, safety, and productivity.
In theory, we know from our own firsthand experience how important sleep is to our well-being. But lately, I feel like I have been hitting the snooze button more and more. I found out recently that hitting the snooze button can actually make you feel more tired during the day. Dr. Yizhak Kupfer from the Maimonides Medical Center in New York talks about how relying on the snooze button can diminish the positive effects of a good night’s sleep.
When we first wake by the sound of the alarm, we are pulled out of REM sleep, the most restorative sleep stage. REM sleep helps us feel awake and focused for the day. When we try to catch those extra 10 minutes, our bodies start a new phase of REM sleep. Unfortunately, those extra 10 minutes don’t allow enough time to complete the cycle, and our brain can stay in it after we have finally forced ourselves to get up and out of bed. This can throw off our circadian rhythms (internal clock) and cause us to feel tired or sluggish the rest of the day. It’s time to stop hitting snooze. Easier said than done, right?
When we are young, we tend to need more sleep than we do as adults. Ever notice how upset and sometimes “cranky” little ones can get if they miss their nap? As we grow older, it is still important to make sure we get an appropriate amount of sleep for our bodies to function properly.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following for sleep duration based on age.
Newborns: 14 to 17 hours
Infants: 12 to 15 hours
Toddlers: 11 to 14 hours
Preschoolers: 10 to 13 hours
School-aged Children: 9 to 11 hours
Teenagers: 8 to 10 hours
Adults: 7 to 9 hours
Not receiving a sufficient amount of sleep can affect us in a variety of ways. It can cause difficulty with concentration, memory, and stamina. Lack of sleep can wreak havoc not only in our personal lives but also in our work lives. Lack of sleep can cause our productivity during the day to significantly decrease. It can sometimes cause issues on the job, especially if performance suffers as a result. For more information on how sleep can affect us at work and accommodations that may help, see http://askjan.org/media/Sleep.html.
There are certain things that can help us try to get an adequate amount of sleep each night, which in turn will help us to function properly and be productive throughout the day. One of these tips is to develop a bedtime routine. It is easy to think that bedtime routines are only a thing for children, but they can also be important for adults. Having a routine can prepare us and ease us into a restful sleep.
In addition to having a bedtime routine, the environment in which we sleep also plays a key role. The National Sleep Foundation talks about using our senses to create a sleep environment that fits our needs. They base these ideas on the five senses: touch, see, hear, smell, and taste. The following are some examples.
Touch: Getting a good night’s sleep means being comfortable. Things to consider:
- Adjusting the temperature of the room
- Using the right type of mattress and pillows
- Making your bed in the morning
See: Light can affect our body’s circadian rhythms (internal clock) and disrupt our sleep patterns. Things to consider:
- Using curtains and closing them at bedtime
- Turning off electronics before settling into bed
Hear: As we sleep, our brains still register and process sounds on a basic level. Noise can disrupt our sleep causing us to wake or move between stages of sleep. This can also cause us to experience changes in heart rate and blood pressure. Things to consider:
- Turning off the TV while sleeping
- Using white noise such as a fan or other device to reduce the difference between background noise and “peak” noise, helping you to sleep better
Smell: According to the National Sleep Foundation, some smells may have an effect on our sleep. Things to consider:
- Periodically changing sheets to ensure freshness
- Using relaxing scents in the room. Lavender has been shown to decrease heart rate and put us into a relaxing state
Taste: What we eat and drink before bed can also affect our sleep. Things to consider:
- Avoiding alcohol and caffeine leading up to bedtime
- If hungry before bed, eating a light snack as opposed to a meal
You can find additional information on bedroom environment from the National Sleep Foundation here https://sleepfoundation.org/bedroom/.
Practicing healthy sleep habits can help our bodies continue to function properly, and help us stay alert and ready to tackle whatever the day throws our way. It is time to take our sleep seriously and listen to our bodies. What better time to start than National Sleep Awareness Week 2016?
National Sleep Foundation
The Snooze Button- Friend or Foe Maimonides Medical Center
Why Hitting The Snooze Button Will Screw Up Your Entire Day The Huffington Post
By: Teresa Goddard, Lead Consultant — Sensory Team; Kelsey Lewis, Consultant — Cognitive/Neurological Team; Lisa Mathess, Senior Consultant — Motor Team
At the beginning of February, a few JAN consultants had the privilege to travel to sunny Orlando, Florida to attend the annual Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) conference. All week, JAN was well represented with a booth in the exhibit hall along with consultants giving three presentations on a range of topics.
As part of the educational sessions, JAN offered a presentation titled Apps at Work: Accommodating Employees Effectively with Mobile Technology! showcasing a variety of mobile apps that could be used as part of, or as, a reasonable accommodation in the workplace. JAN talked about apps for limitations stemming from sensory, motor, cognitive, and psychiatric impairments.
JAN also gave a presentation on real-life situations and solutions from inquiries handled by our consultants regarding employees with multiple impairments and therefore various limitations. The presentation Multiple Impairments, Multiple Limitations: Accommodating Employees with Complex Needs was well received, as accommodation needs can be very complex and ever changing.
Finally, on the last day of the conference, JAN collaborated with alliance partner AbleData and presented on assistive technology options and accommodation ideas for employees with autoimmune disorders — Workplace Accommodations & AT for Individuals with Autoimmune Disorders.
The exhibit booth was visited by people from a variety of backgrounds, including educational professionals, rehabilitation professionals, students, employees with disabilities, and product manufacturers. Consultants discussed the various services offered at JAN and handed out publications and goodies to over 300 attendees.
If you’re interested in viewing the presentation PowerPoints, they are available on the JAN Website for download.
One of the things that we as JAN consultants enjoy most about attending conferences is visiting the booths of other service providers and vendors. Conference exhibit halls are a practical and hands-on way for us to keep up with the latest information on assistive technologies and disability services so that we can share up-to-date information with our consumers. This year, the ATIA exhibit hall showcased a wide variety of vendors and organizations. As usual, vendors of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices and vision-related products were well represented. Due to the recent merger of Dynavox and Tobii, both of which are well known for their AAC devices and eye gaze systems, we were particularly interested to see how they would combine their product lines. We learned that the DynaWrite2.0, a speech-generating device particularly well suited to meet the needs of literate adults who need to be able to use a land line phone for work, had been discontinued. However, one of the Tobii DynaVox reps assured us that a similar product, the highly portable Lightwriter SL40 Connect, will continue to be available. The Lightwriter can be used to make mobile phone calls.
In addition to presenting for JAN, we were able to attend multiple educational sessions. One unique and entertaining session was called Music-Making = Differentiated Instruction and Unique Therapy Protocols, which featured a new [to us] product called Beamz. Beamz is a laser-based music device. It includes three prongs (shaped like a “W”) and laser beams running from each prong. Each laser acts as a different musical instrument that can be played with the stroke of a hand.
The Beamz device can link to IOS products, MAC, and PC, allowing users to view the corresponding instrument with a laser beam on the screen of their device. Users can choose among many genres, including country, hip hop, classical, and even nature sounds. In addition, users can choose to add their own musical twist to already-synced songs ranging from Beamz original compositions, to karaoke hits, and today’s latest radio jams.
Beamz is currently used in multiple settings including schools, geriatric and long-term care facilities, at home, and as a therapy/ rehabilitation tool. It is thought to improve cognition, socialization, and motivation through memory recall, improved communication, and “brain fitness.” Beamz also claims to help with fine and gross motor skills along with improving range of motion.
By: Sheryl Grossman, Consultant – Motor Team
February is Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month. What I find fascinating is the story of the woman behind this initiative — Shelly Thomas Christensen. I spoke with Shelly recently to discuss her experience as a parent, advocate and business woman.
Shelly identifies as a mom of a son with Asperger’s Syndrome who was not diagnosed until he was in high school. She reports feeling frustrated and angry as she advocated for him to receive services in his public school, seeing firsthand how little the professionals at his school were invested in him achieving academic success.
“I just detest people blocking others’ success,” she reflected inspiring her to turn her energy towards making a difference in this arena. Convinced she could change the way things were, she became a trained parent advocate, gaining knowledge and strength. Although her son’s experience in his synagogue school was positive because he was treated like any other student, Shelly learned this was not the case for many people in the Jewish community. This motivated her to turn her attention to a new initiative at the Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis supporting people with disabilities in Jewish community life.
“We are not just someone’s mitzvah project,” she says. “All people deserve the respect to grow to be who they can be, including holding a job. That was the beginning,” she reflects.
While surrounded by successful business owners with disabilities, Shelly experienced her “aha” moment: “If people with disabilities can own their own businesses, so can I!” Learning from those whom she initially helped realize their potential, Shelly launched her consulting company — Inclusion Innovations. What she quickly noticed was that she was one of a handful of people representing faith communities in important disability rights spaces and decided to spread this novel idea throughout the Jewish community. She describes her business as designing, “individualized strategies and programs for faith communities ready to explore ways to shift to a more inclusive environment.” Through this work, she could help individuals with disabilities get more of what they want out of life as valued members of the Jewish community. For Shelly, helping someone get what they want and need out of their faith community naturally leads to these same individuals being seen by their fellow congregants as multifaceted individuals — employees, spouses, parents, athletes, and so much more. She emphasizes, “When we value people, anything is possible.”
By: Beth Loy, Principal Consultant
If you take a management class or two, you get a lot of theory. You might read about the Hawthorne Effect, which tells us that employees work harder when they get attention. You may subscribe to the Peter Principle. If you do, you promote employees based on their performance in their current role, not their qualifications for the intended role. You could believe in systems management, where employees are just pieces of a greater machine. But, being a good manager means understanding your workers, and this takes skill and practice.
A good manager has several qualities, including empathy, experience, and knowledge. Listening, leading, and delegating help a manager focus on making good decisions in a global environment. Being transparent, finding ways to motivate and inspire, supporting innovation, and encouraging effective communication are pivotal skills to engaging a productive workforce. But, what about disability? How do we manage disability issues? Let’s look at Ernest.
Ernest has been a manager for 10 years. Recently, his company took on an initiative to hire employees with disabilities. This is new to him, but he’s been known for leading employees effectively while making firm decisions. Ernest can look back at what it takes to be a good manager and push forward with including disability as a function of his management.
For example, Ernest tends to be very empathetic with his decision-making. Whether it’s related to scheduling around soccer games or helping employees navigate their insurance, he tries to find an answer. It’s now up to Ernest to understand that disability is just another area of focus for him. To support this, Ernest can concentrate on:
- Applicants: Recruiting employees with disabilities is an important step in encouraging a disability-friendly environment. Working with service providers and specific job banks enables employers to actively seek talented people with disabilities who are looking for work.
- Interns: Working with a local school or the Workforce Recruitment Program to bring on youths with disabilities will give the organization a chance to work with highly motivated students with disabilities.
- Employees: It’s important to train all employees on disability etiquette and their rights to accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
- Frontline Supervisors: All frontline supervisors should be aware of the ADA. Knowing how to recognize an accommodation request and begin the interactive process is crucial.
- Motivational Events: Having guest speakers, celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month, creating an employee resource group, or working with a nonprofit will make employees aware of the contributions of workers with disabilities.
It seems Ernest has all of the skills he needs to be successful with his new disability inclusion initiative; now he just needs to take those skills and put them to work. Facilitating the integration of people with disabilities is no different than managing people without disabilities, but you have to drive those changes at your workplace. The Job Accommodation Network can help you do that through training, technical assistance, consultation, and information. And, it’s all for free!
Understand that disability is the one minority group that you can join at any time. Also be aware that if you lack that understanding, the ADA does have teeth, and the enforcing agency for the ADA, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, is just a phone call away at (800)669-4000 or (800)669-6820 (TTY).
By: Linda Carter Batiste, Principal Consultant
Remember the old saying, “He knows just enough to be dangerous”? I find this saying popping into my head over and over when I talk with employers about reassignment as an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For what seems like such a straightforward concept, reassignment sure ends up being one of those things employers have trouble getting right. Let me share several of the most frequent things I hear.
First, and I’d say foremost, I hear employers saying, “We’re not allowed to reassign an employee with a disability unless we can’t accommodate in the current job.” Well, this is true unless the employee and the employer agree that reassignment is the best option. I’ve talked to many employers who insist on trying to keep an employee in his current job even when the employee asks to be reassigned because the employer thinks that’s how it must be done. As with many things under the ADA, this is one where there’s an exception to the general rule that reassignment is the accommodation of last resort.
Next, I frequently hear from employers who are in the process of reassigning an employee with a disability and they have found the perfect vacant job. However, the job is a promotion and, the employer says, “We’re not allowed to promote an employee as an accommodation under the ADA.” Okay, that’s half right. The ADA doesn’t require employers to promote an employee as an accommodation, but at the same time it doesn’t prohibit it; employers are not prohibited from going beyond what’s required by the ADA as long as it benefits the employee with a disability.
Another thing I hear from employers is that when reassigning as an accommodation, it is okay to make an employee do his own job search and apply for whatever job openings he finds. My question for these employers is, “How is this an accommodation? Isn’t this what all employees do when they want another job?” The response I often get is, “Well, yes, but we think this is the fair way to do reassignment, we give the employee an equal chance to compete for jobs.” Okay, the problem here is that the other employees don’t have disabilities and they can do their current jobs so you’re really not giving employees with disabilities an equal chance by making them do the same job search as others. When reassigning as an accommodation, you should actively help find an appropriate vacant job and then place the employee in the job without making him compete. Otherwise, you’re not really making an accommodation.
And the final thing I want to mention that comes up a lot in my conversations with employers is related to seniority systems. I get calls from employers who implement seniority systems, but then have all kinds of exceptions to them for all kinds of reasons except disability-related reasons. They cite the Supreme Court holding that said it is “unreasonable” to reassign an employee with a disability if doing so would violate the rules of a seniority system. That does not mean that you write a discriminatory rule into your seniority system and then you get a free pass! It means that if you have a consistent, uniformly applied system in which jobs are assigned by seniority, you don’t have to bypass that system when reassigning under the ADA. But if you grant exceptions, then you might have to grant an exception for an employee with a disability who needs to be reassigned.
So next time you’re faced with reassignment as an accommodation, I hope you’ll remember a saying my dad taught me: “Always lift up the hood and check the batteries.” Applying this to the ADA, you can’t just rely on the general rules you hear; you always need to check for the exceptions!
And for more information about reassignment and other ADA issues, visit the Matrix Radar Blog.