By: Melanie Whetzel, Lead Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team
Returning to work this week after traveling to the 54th Annual LDA (Learning Disabilities Association of America) International Conference in Baltimore, MD, I just had to get the word out about a new product that about blew my socks off – QuietOn.
QuietOn is a “one-of-a-kind earplug combining active noise cancellation and acoustic noise attenuation to create silence.”
Innumerable people contact JAN for assistance on how to handle auditory distractions in the workplace. Depending on the work environment and individual customer’s situation, JAN can suggest a variety of potential solutions. One of these options is to wear a noise-cancelling headset. However, one potential problem with these headsets for some people with noise sensitivity is their size and weight – this makes it difficult for them to comfortably use. Another issue is that wearing a headset can set an employee apart from others in the workplace. The QuietOn earplugs are much more unobtrusive while offering many of the same benefits as the larger headphones.
So take a look at this new product and determine if it might be the right solution for you or someone you know who may need an accommodation for auditory distractions in the workplace.
Our JAN Website also offers various publications on learning disabilities (LD), as well as other ideas on how to accommodate, reduce, and/or remove auditory distractions in the various work environments.
For Additional Resources:
Accommodation Ideas for Learning Disabilities
Accommodating Employees with Learning Disabilities
Learning Disabilities Association of America
JAN is fortunate to be able to use the JAN Blog as a vehicle for interviewing an organization, employer, individual, or business about how their work contributes to the employability of people with disabilities. In this Blog post, we’ve interviewed Boaz and Minerva Santiago – the founders of Picasso Einstein about their efforts to promote and support viable self-employment opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities.
1. Can you tell us about yourself, your background, and what inspired you and your wife to start Picasso Einstein?
First off, at home, my wife and I are truly like Picasso and Einstein, although that is not how the name of the company came about. My wife, a special needs planning attorney (clearly Einstein) is very analytical; a planner. Whereas, with my psychology background and love for technology, I tend to be more “free-spirited” if you will; or Picasso-like. When my wife and I married, I was doing what I had loved doing for many years, teaching social entrepreneurship to at-risk youth. My wife said to me one day, “you know, the boys (our two boys with autism) are ‘at-risk’ too.” I was in total agreement. She had been witness, by way of her profession, to way too many families whom had adult children with developmental disabilities with no real employment plans for either the immediate or long-term future. My wife, in her infinite wisdom, as she perceived the future of her own children, knew that both boys, due to their autism, would also struggle with traditional employment; particularly our older son, who is mostly non-verbal and experiences seizures. So we asked ourselves, “If they cannot find regular work, what will they be doing when we are gone?” We had to do something about that question and we both knew that self-employment would be a great place to start. Even though we were unsure if they would actually grow up to be self-employed, we were convinced that we could use a small business venture to teach them all of the things they would have to know whether self-employed or traditionally employed, like workmanship, financial literacy, business basics, communication, community (the business kind) and so much more. And even better, we could get started NOW, even though they were only 10 and 12 years old. So we did just that; we got busy doing something about it!
2. Can you talk a bit about the process you underwent starting your company/organization?
During my years teaching social entrepreneurship, I had written a curriculum that I often used as part of the program delivery. So, my wife and I decided to amend the curriculum to be more attuned to the needs of an at-risk youth due to his/her disability. As we began to think about this venture and our two boys, it led us to the name Picasso Einstein. Why? Because they are two incredibly eccentric boys, that despite their obvious limitations, are incredibly brilliant and artistic in their own unique way. Honestly, both of them are what we would consider a perfect balance between brilliance and art.
So we began putting the pieces together for our program, and were immediately invited to pilot our program with the Dan Marino Foundation through a one-day activity with some of their students. That brief pilot eventually led to us designing, developing, authoring and delivering a one-year post-secondary Entrepreneurship Program within the Dan Marino Foundation, with amazing results. Fifteen students with developmental disabilities started off knowing very little about self-employment, and all graduated from that program by delivering a 5-minute business plan PowerPoint presentation. Each one had their own unique challenges (e.g., reading, verbal communication, self-confidence, and many others), but all were overcome on that day as they each passionately delivered a presentation they never thought possible just a year prior. Although the Dan Marino Foundation did not continue the program, we learned a very important lesson within that relationship. We were sending these students home to parents that were not fully supportive of self-employment for many reasons. Some could not at that time see the potential in their children, while others were simply not familiar with self-employment and could not think beyond traditional means of employment. So we realized that any self-employment program, in order for it to be sustainable and successful, needed the full buy-in from the parents/caregivers and support staff. How? We decided to write a new curriculum, 100% focused on parents/caregivers and professionals interested in knowing how to take the lead to assist someone interested in self-employment. This completely revolutionized our educational programs, because we were now, and continue to be, focused on educating parents/caregivers and professionals.
3. On your Website, you feature 2 quotations – one from Pablo Picasso and the other from Albert Einstein – your organization’s namesakes:
“Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.” – Pablo Picasso
“Science is the refinement of everyday thinking.” – Albert Einstein
Can you talk about how these quotations inform the mission of your organization?
Picasso and Einstein simply seemed so fitting, not only because it describes our children, but also because life requires both approaches. Recently, Dr. Temple Grandin was asked to state one thing that she has learned in her career. She responded: “I used to think that engineering (science) could fix everything. I now realize that creativity (art) is equally as important.” We couldn’t say it any better.
We have a deep respect for the scientists, who feverishly pursue a more in-depth understanding of developmental disabilities. We also have a deep respect and appreciation for those who take more liberal and artistic approaches in their engagement with individuals with developmental disabilities. Both are needed. Both are useful. Both are valued by us, and many. And in the spirit of balance, we would live in a different world if either Picasso or Einstein had never existed. We need both, and they need each other.
4. Can you describe in more detail your program — who you serve, how your services work, and your goals for the future?
With incredible partnerships with organizations such as the University of Miami Center for Autism & Related Disabilities; Olivia’s Angels Foundation; Adonis Autism; United Way of Collier County; and Work For America, as well as a collaboration in the works with the National Down Syndrome Society, Family Care Council of Florida and the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, we have been able to provide direct education to parents/caregivers and professionals on how to create simple, sustainable and most importantly, meaningful jobs by way of a simple self-employment model.
Initially we organized our own classes for parents, but have come to realize that our footprint is so much smaller than those organizations that already serve thousands of families with developmental disabilities. Hence, we have focused more recently on working directly with organizations interested in our model and in providing access to our education for the families they already serve. Smaller organizations can organize groups of parents that are interested in our #JobCreators program online, or at times, like we do with Adonis Autism, we deliver the 12 hour course in person. For larger organizations that have a solid infrastructure and staff, we offer a program in which we train and mentor staff with the goal of integrating our platform into their organization as a long-term service offering.
Our long-term goal is to provide access to our education to any family, any professional, any organization, and any self-advocate in the world. Recently, we launched our online portal SelfEmploy.org with the goal of providing that access. Proudly, we recently educated a family from New Zealand, confirming the global need for self-employment education.
5. In some segments of the disability/employment community, despite policies supporting self-employment and customized self-employment options, there continues to be a reluctance to support it. From your experience, can you talk about why you think this is the case and what steps you believe can help better facilitate this option?
First off, let me state for the record that Picasso Einstein’s mission is not to create entrepreneurs out of every single individual with developmental disabilities. Instead, our main focus is to provide information, tools, and awareness so that self-employment is offered as a viable first option, instead of the last option. All persons with disabilities simply deserve choices like all of us. It is not only their civic right, it is their basic human right.
With that said, here are some very specific items we find to be barriers to self-employment:
Education: Professional and parental/caregiver education is a substantial barrier. Most individuals, whether they are caregivers or individuals providing employment services have never been self-employed themselves. Additionally, agencies and organizations (such as vocational rehabilitation) do not make self-employment training a priority for their counselors, supervisors, etc. It’s pretty simple. It’s hard to expect people to support something they don’t fully understand or don’t feel prepared to take on. That is where our curriculum hopes to address that barrier directly.
Perception: I once had a disability community leader say in front of an audience during one of our presentations, that we (Picasso Einstein) were “overselling” self-employment. And then he began to establish his argument by asking, “What about those individuals who don’t even know to run out of the house because the fire alarm is blaring?” Mind you, he described my son in that question, and yet my son is successfully pursuing self-employment. Here is the problem. When someone’s perception of the disability population is overwhelmingly based on the focus of one’s limitations, then quite often, things will seem unachievable. We (Picasso Einstein) live by the words, “Always assume competence.” Why? Because when someone assumes incompetence, like the aforementioned disability community leader, not only does he miss the abilities altogether, but far more tragic, he unknowingly removes countless opportunities for a person to try something new, different, and maybe even challenging. Not only does the person lose out, but so does the entire community depending on such a person to be progressive.
Awareness: Knowing you are not alone in the journey is important. We are hoping by way of providing exposure to stories of other families from around the world whom have chosen self-employment as their way forward to meaningful employment, that perhaps more parents, advocates, professionals will also feel comfortable exploring it a little further.
6. If you were asked to describe the 3 most important points or “best practices” you believe are most essential to creating successful and sustainable self-employment options for individuals with disabilities, what would they be and why?
Think Sustainability – Ask yourself — How will the employment plans survive long after the parents/caregivers have passed away?
Step one must be gathering a team — one that consists of a balanced group of individuals such as peers, friends, family members, local college students, other entrepreneurs to help come up with better business concepts, have larger discussions as it pertains to community supports, as well as personal supports for the individual. If all of the intricacies of the business live on the shoulders of the parents, then that business goes out of business on the day of their death. Not only is that not sustainable, it’s not fair to the person.
Think simple – Persons who tend to think in terms of job descriptions really struggle with coming up with self-employment business concepts.
This minimalistic approach to entrepreneurship is far more traditional than most know. Most businesses are founded by identifying a simple niche. What can the business do to address a particular problem? In our approach, the focus is on what the person CAN do that is meaningful to that person and can also generate income.
Community Integration – No business survives and much less thrives without having a pulse in the community.
Many individuals believe that self-employment is about locking yourself up in a garage for a year, living on rock-n-roll and pizza until you come up with the final product. We have seen that movie too. But that is not our perspective at all! On the contrary, if you build specific business activities that require community integration into the very business concept, it now becomes the vehicle for community integration. So imagine this — instead of the person integrating into the community simply because we say it’s important, they do so now because they have something to say, to offer to that community. Having a product or service to sell creates intrinsic motivation and desire to integrate into the community. This creates an environment of community integration that is not forced upon the person, but instead is desired by the person, because they now desire it, for a profit.
At the end of the day, we simply desire that individuals with disabilities have the means and platform that creates and injects meaning and purpose into everything they do, including their community engagement.
Melanie Whetzel, Lead Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team
Just last month, I finished reading Very Late Diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome (Autism Spectrum Disorder) — How Seeking a Diagnosis in Adulthood Can Change Your Life by Philip Wylie. What a wealth of information!
As the title suggests, this guidebook focuses on very late diagnosis of autism, what is involved, what has led up to the diagnosis, and how to cope with it. Included are chapters entitled “The Advantages and Disadvantages of Diagnosis,” “Common Reactions to Very Late Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder,” “The ‘Coming Out’ Process,” and “How to Live Well with Very Late Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Information also encompasses co-existing mental health impairments, available supports, and strategies to help newly diagnosed individuals move forward.
At JAN, we receive inquiries from many older individuals who either suspect that they have autism, or have obtained a recent diagnosis. Sometimes they just aren’t sure what to do. I believe I now have a better understanding of the process people have gone through, what their concerns are certain to be, and how we can best assist them.
The next one on my list is Women and Girls with Autism Spectrum Disorder Understanding Life Experiences from Early Childhood to Old Age by Sarah Hendrickx.
Sarah Small, Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team
I recently read an article in Counseling Today titled Reconsidering ADHD by Laurie Meyers. She talks about how historically the stereotype for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has been a young child who cannot sit still or pay attention and often gets in trouble. However, in reality ADHD can affect anyone and manifest at different stages in life. This means that sometimes an individual may not receive an actual diagnosis until they are in adulthood. She states that ADHD can often be hard to diagnose as it can also resemble other mental health impairments.
She goes on to discuss that even though there is still a lot to learn about ADHD, researchers tend to believe it is a cognitive impairment that affects the brain’s executive functioning. This can cause issues with concentration, hyperactivity, impulsivity, and other signature qualities associated with the condition. Laurie breaks down her article by looking at some challenges associated with childhood, high school to college transition, and adulthood. Throughout, she shares information from a variety of counselors and their personal experiences working with clients who have ADHD and some concepts and techniques that can help individuals adapt and cope.
I was intrigued by this article because as a member of the cognitive/neurological team here at JAN I frequently receive calls regarding ADHD and accommodations. We typically see the condition and how it affects adults at work, so it was interesting to read some perspectives on how it also affects individuals during childhood and school years. It was a good reminder that no diagnosis has a cookie cutter effect.
Matthew McCord, Consultant – Mobility Team
I recently watched a video on Youtube video by Extra Credits titled, Because Games Matter – A Better Vision.
In this video, the Extra Credits team details the story of a young woman named Sara Winters who was born with ocular albinism. This rare vision disorder caused her to have a visual acuity of 20/200, making her legally blind. However, her ophthalmologist made the suggestion that she play video games as a form of therapy to help her eye sight improve. I found this video interesting not only as someone who considers himself a gamer, but also because it illustrates the importance of keeping an open mind to unconventional solutions to problems. For Sara, game therapy helped her brain understand the limited information her eyes could gather and her visional acuity improved to 20/100. Sara’s testimony illustrates that even unorthodox options can be effective, and when it comes to reasonable accommodation options, being effective is what really matters.
Tracie DeFreitas, Lead Consultant — ADA Specialist
As a self-proclaimed ADA geek, I gravitate toward literature and on-line resources that analyze timely and complex ADA and FMLA issues. I know, that sounds riveting, right? But, it can be. New workplace challenges develop every day with each unique disability employment related situation. Reading about recent employment cases and perspectives on enforcement agency guidances and activities satisfies my inner nerd, and also enables me to offer JAN customers useful information to support their ADA and FMLA compliance efforts. There are a number of go-to resources for ADA and FMLA information, including Bloomberg BNA’s Labor & Employment Law Resource Center and the National Employment Law Institute’s publication, Resolving ADA Workplace Questions, but for weekly content, I’ve been reading a couple of trusted legal blogs. For example, I subscribe to the Disability, Leave & Health Management blog published by the law firm, Jackson Lewis. This blog addresses some of the more difficult legal and practical issues employers face when managing disability, attendance, and leave, among other issues. Another favorite blog is FMLA Insights authored by Jeff Nowak, co-chair of Franczek Radelet’s Labor and Employment Practice. FMLA Insights provides insight and analysis on the FMLA, ADA, and similar employment legislation and was selected as one of the Top 100 Legal Blogs of 2016 by the ABA Journal. Both blogs are excellent resources for practical compliance advice on ADA and FMLA issues.
Kim Cordingly, Lead Consultant – Self-Employment Team
My academic background is in economic geography, so I’m currently reading a book by Maureen Molloy and Wendy Larner entitled Fashioning Globalisation: New Zealand Design, Working Women, and the Cultural Economy. At first glance, this book may appear to have little to do with individuals with disabilities starting small businesses. However, I’ve been thinking about how their theoretical framework and research can help us better understand the experiences of women entrepreneurs with disabilities in a U.S. context. Malloy and Larner describe their project in this way: “The book is an attempt to rethink the relationship between changes in the global cultural economy over the past 20 years and changes in middle-class women’s working lives through the exemplary case of the New Zealand designer fashion industry.” At JAN, we are often contacted by individuals with disabilities who fit into the category of “independent artisans,” participating in their creative and local economy. Organizations such as the Women’s Rural Entrepreneurial Network (WREN) in New Hampshire are an example of how entrepreneurial networks can promote and support local women owned businesses that fit into this category. All areas of the U.S. are undergoing distinct economic shifts that affect women’s livelihoods in varied ways. For women with disabilities who pursue self-employment or starting businesses, they are deeply affected by these changes — in terms of the type of businesses they choose to start, what types of networks can support these businesses, and how they think of themselves in their role as a business owner. Work in geography addresses these intersections and how place, space and scale help us better understand women’s experiences in this evolving economic landscape.
Beth Loy, Principal Consultant
Q&A with Damian Sian, Senior Web Accessibility Advisor for Princeton University
Recently I read an article by Damian Sian, who works as the Senior Web Accessibility Advisor for Princeton University. Sian talked about how he got into the accessibility field and the experience he brought from his marketing and test development background. He mentioned two interesting points in his interview that we also find important and challenging at the Job Accommodation Network. First, he discussed the difficulty of making mathematical representations of data accessible. Second, he talked about the importance of collaboration. This article reminds us that the field of accessibility will make great strides if organizations work together to solve accessibility challenges.
Teresa Goddard, Lead Consultant – Sensory Team
A key part of a JAN consultant’s job is finding new and easier ways to do the simple ordinary tasks that most of us take for granted. One of my very first calls here at the Job Accommodation Network involved a question about an intern with limited use of one hand, who was having trouble tying off garbage bags. While it was a small part of the job, the intern wanted to be able to do it independently. A therapist who was working with the young woman called me, a brand-new consultant, looking for a device designed to close garbage bags with one hand. I couldn’t find anything like that in the JAN database. I asked if I could call her back and made my way down the hall to talk to the most knowledgeable product guru I could find, an experienced consultant named Eddie. He listened to the whole story with a quizzical expression, raised his eyebrows and said one simple word, “tape.” He went on to explain how to precut and preset pieces of tape for ease of use with one hand.
Eddie’s lesson in looking for simple easy solutions has led me to look at everyday objects in a new way. Although I now take primarily sensory related calls here at JAN, I still like to look at the pencils, tape, and stacks of books on my desk with an eye to how they can be used as an accommodation. I like to read about new uses for household items as well. This has led to a fascination with how-to books. I recently picked up a second hand copy of Reader’s Digest Practical Problem Solver, which has a lengthy section called “Common Things with Uncommon Uses.” This consists of an alphabetized list of ordinary things like scarves, socks, and shower curtains that can be used in unexpected ways to simplify your life. There are 17 uses for tape listed. It may not be a lofty book, but it is jam-packed with ideas that I had never even considered. Did you know that wearing rubber gloves over your gardening gloves can keep your hands extra warm and dry on cold damp mornings? It is a simple idea that I will be passing on to my callers with temperature sensitivity. Do you have how-to books collecting dust on your bookshelf? Pick one up!
Linda Batiste, Principal Consultant
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that enforces the employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), has been cranking out a lot of information in past few months, including some very important ADA-related documents. We use EEOC guidance every day in our work at JAN so I made time to read everything the EEOC published. For employers, the information provided in these documents can be extremely useful.
One of the most important documents is EEOC Enforcement Guidance on Retaliation and Related Issues, which explains the EEOC’s interpretation of what constitutes retaliation. According to the EEOC, retaliation is the most frequently alleged basis of discrimination so this should be a must-read for employers. In addition to retaliation, there’s something called interference under the ADA, which can occur with just one careless sentence from a supervisor. The EEOC’s publication provides the following example:
An employee requests an accommodation. In response, her supervisor tells her that she must try taking medication first or her request will not be considered. This is interference with the employee’s exercise of her rights in violation of the ADA.
Toward the end of the document, the EEOC provides promising practices for employers who want to reduce the likelihood of a retaliation or interference claim against them. The document is pretty long, but there are also a couple shorter, summary documents if you’re not inclined to read the larger document: Questions and Answers: Enforcement Guidance on Retaliation and Related Issues and Small Business Fact Sheet.
In addition to the retaliation document, the other documents the EEOC recently published include:
Proposed Enforcement Guidance on Unlawful Harassment, which is another serious problem for employers. If you want to review this document and comment on it, you have until Feb. 9, 2017.
For federal agencies, there are new regulations related to their affirmative action obligations for employees with disabilities, along with a shorter question and answer document.
The EEOC also publishes information for individuals with disabilities. The most recent document is called Depression, PTSD, & Other Mental Health Conditions in the Workplace: Your Legal Rights.
If you haven’t reviewed any of these documents, you might want to take a look at them – it’s a good way to pass the time on a cold winter day – or if you need information related to any of these topics, you can always give JAN a call!
By: Tracie DeFreitas, Lead Consultant — ADA Specialist, and Lou Orslene, Co-Director
The song is in your head now, isn’t it? You know the one. Now you have this vision of a pile of big and little, furry dogs, ears flopping up and down, running wildly, …through the halls of your organization. And suddenly, the music in your head has come to a screeching halt. Who let the dogs…at work? Service and emotional support dogs have become more prevalent as a form of reasonable accommodation for individuals with disabilities employed in private, public, and federal sector workplaces all over the country. Fortunately, the issue of whether or not a dog must be permitted as a reasonable accommodation at work is rarely debated now. Employers are more informed about service and emotional support animals as accommodations and understand that having a dog at work, for some people who require it due to their disability, promotes effective job performance.
While there is little debate over the need to consider access for service and emotional support dogs as an accommodation in the workplace, employers sometimes wonder about the best way to inform others in the workplace concerning Fido’s impending presence. We know that, under the ADA, employers are permitted to share limited information about the animal with those who are on a “need-to-know” basis. For example, a manager or supervisor might be informed about a service dog and how to interact appropriately. However, the employer is not permitted to share disability-related information with co-workers. As this at times can be confusing, let us offer a couple of best practices while teasing out the question of confidentiality and service and emotional support dogs as an accommodation in the workplace.
Let’s start with a couple of best employer practices in regard to service and emotional support dogs. A service or emotional support dog is an obvious accommodation that will immediately be known by others who encounter the dog at work. It’s also an accommodation that could impact other employees. In some ways, it’s like acknowledging the elephant in the room, but a much furrier, smaller elephant, that sometimes barks. Preparing employees for dogs in the workplace, like other accommodations, should begin before a dog arrives, or accommodations are needed. What I mean is, when employees are educated about the ADA and their ability to request workplace accommodations, there can be fewer questions or cause for concern when an accommodation is implemented because people just know – they understand why there is a change at work. So as a best practice, employers who promote an informed and inclusive workplace should offer disability etiquette training to all employees and educate people about interacting with service animals in general.
Another best employer practice in response to an employee accommodation request for the use of a service or emotional support dog is to ask the employee using the service animal how they would like to handle the situation of informing (or not informing) others about the presence of the dog and how to interact appropriately prior to bringing the dog to work. Dog lovers beware and resist the urge to go nose-to-nose with that furry animal! The dog has a job to do. As is often the case, the employee being accommodated may be the best source for input and information. Note that the employee who uses a service dog is free to independently (and voluntarily) share information about their animal and need for accommodation with others in the workplace.
However, if an employee is uncomfortable with the employer sharing information about the service or emotional support dog and the employee prefers not to share information, then it is the employer’s obligation to protect the confidentiality of the employee with a disability and their request of a service animal as an accommodation. But then you may ask yourself, doesn’t the supervisor, manager, or other personnel involved in the provision of the accommodation need to know some information about the accommodation? The answer is yes – but only those who are on a “need-to-know” basis should have this information. For example, a manager or supervisor who is responsible for implementing the use of a service animal in a particular job site. These “need-to-know” personnel will need to know how to effectively integrate the service animal into the workplace, including where the service animal will relieve itself or if the service animal will be included in meeting spaces. However, it could be a breach of confidentiality for employers to reveal why the service or emotional support dog is needed.
So what about the employee’s co-workers? What information can an employer share with them? We know that, under the ADA, employers are not permitted to share disability-related information with co-workers. This would be a breach of confidentiality. We also know that while employers have no particular obligation to inform others that a dog will be allowed on the premises, there are dynamics in the workplace where providing limited information is important. For instance, in the event a co-worker is afraid of dogs or has an animal allergy, or perhaps when questions arise about why a “no animals” policy is being modified.
How then does an employer communicate that a dog will be soon entering the workplace? As stated previously, revealing that an employee is being “accommodated” is a violation of confidentiality, so we suggest employers be cautious about using the terms “service” or “emotional support” dog when announcing that a dog will be allowed on the premises. Informal guidance JAN has received from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on this issue notes that verifying that a dog is a service animal and not a pet is revealing that the employer is allowing the animal onto its premises because of the services it performs as a reasonable accommodation. This, in turn, is revealing that the employee using the service animal has a disability, even if the disclosure is not revealing the nature of the disability.
In light of this EEOC guidance, we suggest employers who feel the need to share that a dog will be on the premises can share this information with limited individuals in the employee’s immediate work area. These co-workers, given their working proximity to the employee who requires the service animal, might be informed that a dog will be present, that its particular presence is approved by the employer, and who to contact if someone has an issue or concern regarding the matter. This approach is informative to the extent necessary, makes it clear that the employer is aware and approves the dog’s presence in the workplace, and provides information to co-workers about who to contact if, for instance, they have an allergy or a fear of dogs, so these issues can be resolved privately.
So our tips for communicating to employees about service animals:
- Prepare your workforce for the inevitable presence of a service or emotional support dog with general disability etiquette training including specific information about service animals.
- Discuss with the employee requesting access for a service or emotional support dog as an accommodation their expectations for how others should interact with the dog. Ask what information, if any at all, the employee would like shared with others about the dog’s presence.
- Inform managers or supervisors on a need-to-know basis about service and emotional support dogs as accommodations. Managers or supervisors will need to know what their role is in effectively implementing the accommodation.
- When necessary, let co-workers know in advance that a dog – not a “service” or “emotional support” dog – will be entering the workplace and who to contact if there are questions or concerns.
These resources may help:
Manners Unleashed: Etiquette Regarding Service Dogs
Disability Etiquette in the Workplace
The Manager’s Dilemma: “An employee is asking about a co-worker’s accommodation. As a manager, what do I say?”
Educating the Workforce about the ADA & Accommodations
For more information about service and emotional support dogs in the workplace, please contact JAN to speak with a consultant, or go to AskJAN.org and see the A to Z of Disabilities and Accommodations section, under the topic of Service Animals.
By: Kelsey Lewis, Former JAN Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team
With football season in full swing, it isn’t uncommon to hear stories of sports-related head injuries for high school, college, and professional athletes alike. The risk of a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), both mild and severe, is a very real threat for players and can occur during both practices and games. But with all of the negative publicity that football attracts regarding head injuries, many people aren’t aware that most TBIs are caused by everyday falls, something that can happen to almost anyone at any time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that falls made up approximately 40% of all TBIs between the years 2006-2010, with unintentional blunt trauma (being hit by an object) and vehicle crashes following behind (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016).
As someone who does not identify as being athletic (although I was a great bench warmer during my soccer career), I never really experienced many injuries on or off the field. So it was much to my surprise when I took a recent spill at home resulting in a mild concussion. After the fall, I immediately felt dizzy, nauseated, and had a pounding headache. I could tell this was like no other injury I had experienced before; I just didn’t feel like myself. The days immediately following the accident, I reported to work as usual, discussed accommodations, and went on with my typical routine. However, I was utterly exhausted, felt oddly emotional, and still had a headache. Finally, on the third day of work after my fall, one of my trusted JAN colleagues intervened and convinced me to take care of myself. I took the next day off along with the weekend to rest, unplugged the electronics, went to the emergency department to make sure everything was fine (it was), and slowly started feeling better within a few weeks. The point of my self-disclosure? To illustrate just how easily and innocently a brain injury can occur, even if it is in the form of a mild concussion, in which one can recover and feel “normal” within a few weeks.
Regardless of whether TBI symptoms are temporary or long-term, accommodations can assist in the recovery and management process. Symptoms from a brain injury may affect:
- Cognitive function (e.g. attention and memory)
- Motor function (e.g. weakness and impaired balance/coordination)
- Sensory function (e.g. hearing, vision, and impaired perception)
- Emotional function (e.g. depression, anxiety, aggression, and impulse control)
- A combination of any of these.
Possible workplace accommodations can include low cost options such as providing a tape recorder in order to remember the content of a meeting or procedural accommodations like providing leave or a modified schedule to recover from the initial injury or go to medical appointments. More involved accommodations to a workspace may include installing ramps and handrails for issues associated with mobility. JAN’s publication Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Brain Injuries provides additional accommodation ideas. Our publication Workplace Accommodations: Low Cost, High Impact provides information from our survey of employers who historically report no cost or low cost for accommodating employees with disabilities.
Regardless of how a TBI occurs or the severity of the injury, one of the most important things to remember is to “take it easy” after one occurs. Rest helps your brain heal and can speed up the recovery process (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016). Once returning to work, accommodations can help address the limitations resulting from the injury.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention – Injury Prevention & Control: Traumatic Brain Injury & Concussion
Employees’ Practical Guide to Negotiating and Requesting Reasonable Accommodations Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Job Accommodation Network (Original 2005, Updated 2007, Updated 2009, Updated 2010, Updated 2011, Updated 2012, Updated 2013, Updated 2014, Updated 2015, Updated 2016). Workplace accommodations: Low cost, high impact. Retrieved November 15, 2016, from http://AskJAN.org/media/lowcosthighimpact.html
Occasionally at JAN, we are contacted by a new organization or individual who wants to share with us their information and the work they do through a guest Blog. We were contacted by Adam Cook who has started the Website Addictionhub.org that focuses on resources to support individuals with a coexistence of a mental health impairment and drug/alcohol addiction. He had read our Blog and asked to write an article about his work and a topic he feels is often insufficiently addressed, including in the employment arena.
We chose to do the Blog in a Q&A format. We thank Adam for contacting us about this topic and wanting to share this information with our customers as he develops both his site and its potential outreach.
1. Can you tell us about yourself, your background, and what inspired you to start the Website Addictionhub.org?
I am a pretty average guy with an above-average passion in regards to helping people find the resources they need to fight addiction. I became dedicated to this cause a few years ago when I lost a good friend of mine to suicide. He had been dealing not only with alcoholism, but also had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I believe that it was harder for him to fight his addiction battle because of the state of his mental health, and his addiction exacerbated his mental illness. He finally went into treatment, but afterwards he resisted finding a long-term program. Eventually he gave up hope, and I lost him.
I don’t want anyone else to feel the sorrow I have experienced after losing a life-long friend, nor do I want anyone to have to go through what he did. He wasn’t alone, but he felt like he was. I wish I had known more about the resources that were out there when he was alive. It is my goal to spread the word about addiction and places where individuals and families can get help. I want to encourage people to not try to do it on their own.
2. Can you talk a bit about the process you underwent for starting the Website and what your short, medium, and long term vision is for the site? You’ve included a crowdsourcing component. Can you talk about why you built-in this feature?
Initially, I had hoped to simply create a place where I could list organizations and other resources that could help people who are fighting addictions. As I began doing research, I realized even if I could compile a large amount of information, I needed to do what I have encouraged others to do in their own journey: ask for help.
Since the launch of the site, I have had people contact me with information that has been extremely helpful. I value first-hand feedback in regards to how addiction assistance has made a difference. My goal now is to continue building on the searchable database with input from others. In the long term, I would like to have more involvement from not only people who have gone through programs, but also from the treatment providers.
3. You state the mission for your Website is “…to help individuals, families, and health workers find support with issues relating to addiction. We locate and catalog addiction resources from around the Web.” Can you expand on this mission?
I take the resources that are shared through the site very seriously. I take the time to research any organization or Website that is submitted to make sure that the information is useful and the programs are legitimate. I think it is important for individuals who need help to be able to find a program that they can relate to and that they will stick with.
4. You emphasize on your Website the connections between mental health impairments and addiction. Can you talk more about this connection from your perspective and why you believe this is an important point to make?
I experienced first-hand someone battling with alcoholism as well as bipolar disorder. From the perspective of an uninformed outsider, it was often hard for me to distinguish what symptoms were from which condition. I believe that my friend started drinking to deal with his mental health impairment, and that he faced even more challenges than most in finding a treatment plan that worked for him. Overall, mental health and addiction are two things that are very misunderstood by most. These challenges go beyond willpower and strength of character. They are serious medical conditions that often go hand-in-hand.
5. JAN addresses mental health impairments and addiction in the context of employment and accommodation situations. From your experience, can you talk about the specific impacts you feel these issues have for individuals in the workplace?
I believe one of the hardest things to overcome is the stigma put on recovering addicts and individuals with mental health impairments. These not only hold people back from seeking out treatment, but also can cause misunderstanding and mistrust from employers. If someone had a serious physical ailment such as cancer or an injury, it is acceptable for them to take time off to receive medical treatment or heal as needed. In the case of mental health or addiction, there are less accommodations given by employers, even though the conditions can be just as, or even more, serious.
When loss of employment does occur, it can trigger dangerous reactions. I have seen someone caught in a vicious cycle of despair where work stress contributes to symptoms and behaviors, and then those cause more issues at work.
In my research, I have determined that more employers are recognizing the importance of nurturing their employees’ mental health, but there are still a lot of hurdles.
For more information on mental health impairments and addiction in an employment context, see these resources on the JAN Website:
Accommodation Ideas for Alcoholism
Accommodation Ideas for Drug Addiction
Accommodation Ideas for Mental Health Impairments
Accommodation Ideas for Bipolar Disorder
Accommodation Ideas for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
By: Melanie Whetzel, Lead Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) celebrated its 26th anniversary this past July. This legislation is purposed to improve the lives of people with disabilities by protecting their rights to have access to employment, public entities, transportation, public accommodations and commercial facilities, telecommunications and more. It helps people with disabilities compete equally for employment and receive the accommodations and protections they need to work.
Are you in need of reasonable accommodations in the workplace due to a disability? Do you know what steps to take in order to get the process started? Disclosure is the first and sometimes the most difficult step. Just thinking about this can often cause anxiety and stress. So what exactly is disclosure?
Disclosure is divulging or giving out personal information about a disability. It is important for the employee to provide information about the nature of the disability, the limitations involved, and how the disability affects the ability to learn and/or perform the job effectively. The employer has a right to know if a disability is involved when an employee asks for accommodations. Ideally, employees will disclose a disability and request accommodations before performance problems arise, or at least before they become too serious.
Let’s look at three main reasons why someone with a disability may choose to disclose a disability to their employer:
1). To ask for job accommodations. As an example, a bus garage employee with a reading disability missed instructions and important announcements that were sent via e-mail. As an accommodation, he requested screen reading software that allows text to be converted into computer synthesized speech.
2). To receive benefits or privileges of employment. The ADA requires employers to provide accommodations so that employees with disabilities can enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment equal to those enjoyed by similarly-situated employees without disabilities. Benefits and privileges of employment include employer-sponsored training, access to cafeterias, lounges, gymnasiums, auditoriums, transportation, and parties or other social functions. For example, an employee with Down syndrome signed up for a nutrition class, but had trouble understanding the information that was presented. His employer asked the instructor to provide pictures of the types of food she was recommending employees eat. The employee was able to use these pictures when making food choices.
3). To explain an unusual circumstance. For instance, someone with temperature sensitivities due to multiple sclerosis (MS) may need to explain to his employer why it would be helpful to work from home while the office air conditioner is being repaired.
Disclosure can be quite simple. You can tell your employer that you need to talk about an adjustment or change that is essential for a reason related to a medical condition. You may use plain English to request an accommodation. You do not have to mention the ADA nor use the phrase “reasonable accommodation.” It can be as easy as saying to your supervisor, “I need to talk to you about the difficulty I encounter when I try to hand write notes due to a medical condition.”
Questions about disclosure? Contact JAN for more information or to discuss an accommodation situation with a consultant.
JAN Topic — Disclosure
The ADA in 2016
JAN ADA Library
By: Melanie Whetzel, Lead Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team
With summer coming to a close and schools starting to resume, I become reminiscent of the time when my son was younger. I hear parents talking about being anxious for school to start so their kids will be back on a schedule and out of their hair. I was never one of those parents. Maybe that is because I was a teacher and spent so many days out of the year immersed in a strict routine and consistent schedule. Freewheeling through the summer, making plans as each day dictated – depending on the weather and our whims, tasted of pure freedom. But it is valuable for children to have a routine. It is good for them to know what to expect so they spend less time wondering what is about to happen, or feel less anxiety trying to figure out what to do next.
However, it is not just children who do well with a schedule. Essentially, all of us function more fully with a routine or schedule. A routine provides structure and familiarity; organization and direction; and order and dependability. A routine also increases efficiency, makes tasks more of a habit, and saves time by eliminating the need to consider what to do next. With a routine we master tasks by becoming better and quicker. And as we accomplish things, we move closer and closer to our goals.
For individuals with cognitive impairments, a routine may be crucial to enabling the completion of essential functions of their jobs. Difficulties with memory, concentration, organization, multi-tasking, and time management make routines and schedules not only helpful, but necessary.
Here are a few tips for setting up a routine at work:
- Recruit the help of a mentor or supervisor.
- Keep a strict morning schedule, which can alleviate rushing around and being tardy for work.
- Be aware of time-sensitive tasks. Make sure you know when tasks that have to be done at a certain time are due, then you can plug other tasks in around those.
- Factor in how long the tasks should take. Pace yourself.
- Cluster tasks that are similar, so you can complete them while you are in the “zone.”
- Assess your day as to when you have the most mental energy and stamina to do the more difficult tasks.
- Use a checklist. Who doesn’t? Various checklists with different functions can help you work much more effectively. A checklist of tasks to be done, or one that involves steps in a procedure, are just two examples. A list of what needs to be done tomorrow, made before you leave work today, can help limit the time you will spend in the morning trying to remember.
- Make use of calendars and planners, whether paper or electronic.
- Plan regular meetings with a mentor or supervisor to set goals and help stay on task.
- Schedule five to ten minutes daily at the end of your shift to clean up your desk/work area. This can alleviate the need to spend more massive amounts of time later for a thorough clean-up. We all work more efficiently without the distractions of clutter.
- Incorporate an evening routine at home to save you time in the mornings.
Below are accommodation examples of how routines and schedules can help employees be more successful in the workplace. (All the names are pseudonyms, but the examples are from actual JAN inquiries.)
Liam, who has an intellectual disability, works as a mail clerk. He belonged to several coffee clubs in his workplace, so as he collected mail first thing in the morning, he would have a cup of coffee with each department of the building. He would get involved in conversations and forget what he was doing. By the time he was finished with the first round of mail, it was lunch time. The same thing was occurring during his afternoon mail run.
Liam’s employer decided to accompany and time him as he picked up the mail with no coffee stops so they would have an idea how long to allow for each mail run. His supervisor set up a schedule, gave Liam a timer, and showed him how to pace himself. The schedule indicated where he should be at certain intervals on his route. By better management of his time, Liam was able to get several more daily tasks completed instead of just the two mail collections. Liam was also provided with a rotating coffee club schedule, allowing him one coffee break with one club each morning and each afternoon.
Ronisha was tardy more mornings at work than she was on time. After a serious discussion with her manager, Ronisha disclosed she has ADHD and finds it nearly impossible to get herself out the door. She requested a flexible schedule stating the maintenance man could fill in for her when she was late. Her employer denied the request because Ronisha was the employee scheduled to open the museum gift shop, while the maintenance man had his own duties.
Ronisha’s employer referred her to JAN, where a consultant helped her set up a home routine that would enable her to get to work on time. Because employers can have time and attendance standards for all employees, and because getting to work on time is the responsibility of the employee, Ronisha knew she had to make some changes to her morning routine. Here are some of the suggestions that worked for her:
- Have a routine of putting and keeping things in their place (keys, phone, and glasses).
- Prepare for the next day’s work the night before.
- Create a checklist for yourself and others.
- Place sticky notes on the door, dashboard, or wherever you will see them.
- Turn off distractions – including cell phones and televisions.
- Set a timer or a programmable watch to pace yourself.
Maintaining a routine as an accommodation can be most helpful for individuals who face difficulties in the following areas:
If the thoughts of a morning, daily, and evening routine are overwhelming to you right now, consider starting small and expanding. A routine for even part of your day can be highly beneficial. Once the benefits are recognized, the motivation to continue will come naturally. Happy scheduling!
By: Elisabeth Simpson, Lead Consultant – Motor Team
As the Lead Consultant for the Motor Team, I am asked questions daily about the provision of equipment as an accommodation. Employers, individuals, and even rehabilitation professionals often ask if JAN provides equipment, who is responsible for buying equipment, and what resources are available to the employer if the cost of a piece of equipment would be an undue hardship.
Let’s start with the easy question first: Does JAN provide equipment? The answer is pretty simple. We do not provide or supply any type of equipment, technology, etc. Additionally, JAN does not offer on-site evaluations or worksite assessments of any type. We are limited, in a way, to providing assistance and guidance from a distance, but have developed an extensive product and vendor database for this reason. JAN consultants are trained to ask questions that help us better understand the work environment so we are able to offer accommodation ideas that are effective. When possible, we can direct you to where a piece of equipment or product can be purchased or even offer a variety of options for you to choose as the accommodation.
As for questions related to who is responsible for buying equipment — the EEOC has indicated that the employer is ultimately responsible for providing work-related equipment or devices as an accommodation, absent undue hardship. In some cases, an employee may be working with vocational rehabilitation services (VR) and the cost could be shared. In other cases, the employer can choose a less expensive accommodation as long as the alternative option selected is effective. In general, when an employer purchases a piece of equipment it is then owned by that employer. In situations where the cost is shared, it is important that a discussion take place as part of the interactive process so there will be a plan for what will happen with the equipment if/when the employee no longer needs it or no longer works for the employer.
Resources may be available for some employers to help with the cost of providing equipment as an accommodation. Tax credits could be taken advantage of if the employer qualifies or if the employee is part of a targeted group. Additional information about various tax incentives are available on JAN’s Website. Federal employers may be able to take advantage of the services offered by the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP), which provides assistive technology and services to people with disabilities, Federal managers, supervisors, and IT professionals. Employees may be able to receive funding for assistive technology from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (if veterans or service members); the Social Security Administration’s Plan To Achieve Self-Support (PASS) and other work incentives; non-profit disability organizations; and civic or service organizations (Lions Club, VFW, Rotary Club, etc.). Employers can also look into state workers’ compensation programs if the disability was caused by a work-related injury.
At the end of the day, it is important to remember that while there may be a cost associated with purchasing a piece of equipment, there are many options available for employers to consider when this is the accommodation being provided. Additionally, the EEOC has offered guidance on how to determine undue hardship and JAN consultants on all teams are ready and willing to discuss options with you!
Workplace Accommodations: Low Cost, High Impact
JAN ADA Library
State Assistive Technology Projects
JAN Searchable Online Accommodation Resource
By: Kelsey Lewis, Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team
Every Thursday afternoon, I grab my yarn and knitting needles and join some of my colleagues at JAN for our “Yarn Club.” A mix of knitters and crocheters gather together during our lunch hour and get to work. While working on our own individual projects, we chat about our work or home lives, and sometimes even delve into deeper topics like religion or politics. Most times though, we spend the hour laughing — a lot. Regardless of the topic, this hour has become something I look forward to every week. Not only has it provided the chance to get to know the group members on a more personal level, but it is truly a therapeutic activity.
There is something about working with my hands and focusing my attention more on this art, and less on my daily stressors, that reenergizes me for the rest of the workday. Other group members have expressed the positive benefits they also feel from working on their individual projects in a shared group setting. This made me think — if more workplaces formed hobby groups, the work environment may be filled with many more relaxed employees.
JAN’s cognitive/neurological team frequently fields situations in which stress plays a significant role in the productivity of an employee with a disability. For instance, many employers share experiences of employees requesting an accommodation of a “less stressful environment.” Other times, we hear of employees having poor attendance or needing to take leave as an accommodation because workplace stress has exacerbated their pre-existing conditions. Although there are accommodations that can help relieve stress to a degree, such as allowing additional breaks to practice stress reduction activities, providing a quiet work area, or using environmental sound machines, additional solutions may be necessary to continue the feeling of relaxation throughout the work day. While forming hobby groups is not a formal accommodation, creating a workplace environment that fosters these type of activities can contribute overall to employee productivity and job satisfaction.
Knitting is certainly not the only hobby that can help relieve stress throughout the work day. Depending on the space and time available, all sorts of interest groups could be formed, including those that involve movement like walking, yoga, or martial arts. Other groups might focus more on hobbies like reading, scrapbooking, model building, or a new personal favorite — adult coloring books! There are many research studies linking physical activity to increased mental health, lower levels of tension, elevated and stabilized mood, better sleep, and improved self-esteem. But how about hobbies as a way to relieve stress?
According to one study that examined the bodily reactions of 115 men and women while performing leisure activities/hobbies, virtually all participants reported lower stress levels and had a lower heart rate during these activities compared to rest of their day. The participants reported that they were 34% less stressed, 18% less sad, and their heart rate dropped approximately 3%. Maybe the most important aspect of the study was that it showed that the positive effects carried over after the participant stopped the activity. This important piece may link hobbies to improved health over the span of a lifetime (Zawadzki, Smyth, & Costigan, 2015).
In conclusion, if you’re looking for a way to reduce stress throughout your work day, or even improve your overall health, why not consider creating a hobby group? Whether this means revisiting those old passions you forgot you enjoy or trying something you’ve never done before, hobby groups are a great way of getting to know your colleagues and tackle the rest of your day with a smile on your face!
Fitzpatrick, K. (2016). Why adult coloring books are good for you. Retrieved from
Zawadzki, M. J., Smyth, J. M., & Costigan, H. J. (2015). Real-Time associations between engaging in leisure and daily health and well-being. Retrieved from http://www.ucmerced.edu/sites/ucmerced.edu/files/documents/zawadzki-paper-2015.pdf