By: Matthew McCord, Consultant – Motor Team
Back in 2014, Elisabeth Simpson wrote a Blog post on low cost accommodation solutions. Three years have passed since then, and I think it is time to revisit this subject and provide you all with some additional options to keep in your toolkit. However, this post will focus more on Do-It-Yourself style accommodations. So, if you are one to enjoy rolling up your sleeves and tackling accommodation needs directly rather than purchasing a product, then this Blog article is for you. Even if you aren’t a hands-on kind of person, some of these options may still be helpful.
To begin, I think it is best to lay down the rules of what this Blog is about. Have you ever looked into accommodation options and thought, “I am sure you could make this yourself and it would be much cheaper to do so?” If so, that is the question that drives this Blog. Some of you may be worrying that the following may be a little out of your depth, so let me assure you, it is certainly possible that you have done more complex projects of your own than what I will be giving you below.
First, let’s start simple. Have you ever looked into height adjustable table legs as an accommodation option? Well, if you do not need the ability to periodically adjust from sitting to standing height, you can increase the height of a desk by lifting it up and placing the legs on cinder blocks or bricks. You can similarly lower a desk by removing the legs entirely and placing it on cinder blocks to achieve the height needed.
Next, let’s go for a little more complex option. Sit/stand workstations are a very common accommodation request and I often point out our vendor listing for monitor risers as a solution for those needs. However, you can achieve the same results by stacking some phone books up to the appropriate height and then placing a second monitor on top of them. To make that monitor usable, you will need to raise up a keyboard tray to place a second keyboard and mouse on. You could also use the same keyboard and mouse for both monitors, but depending on individual needs, it may be best to get another set rather than constantly moving things around. To make such a tray, you can use a shelving insert from an old bookshelf for instance. You can also look into using pink board, which can be purchased from building supply stores, if no empty bookshelves are readily available. If you are concerned about towers of phone books toppling over, then you can bind them together using duct tape. As a bonus, you can also create a footrest out of old phonebooks that are bound together in the same manner.
On the topic of desks and computers, spare binder clips can be used to help organize electronic device wiring. This can be helpful for IT employees with vision impairments to quickly locate the needed wires. An additional step that can be helpful here is using a strip of scotch tape and labeling each wire by writing on the tape and then sticking it on the binder clip or using some tactile dots and markers as an alternative method of labelling depending on severity of the individual’s visual impairment. This will provide the added benefit of making an otherwise incomprehensible mass of wires tidier as well!
In the spirit of keeping things organized, this next idea can be very helpful for people with memory limitations. If you have an employee with such issues who often leaves keys laying around, you can use a carabiner to keep multiple sets of keys together and allow the employee to clip them directly on their clothing via belt loops. This is a practice that I learned from my father. As a custodian for a school, he needed to carry around a bunch of keys and this was how he kept track of them all.
This last option will be the only one that involves the use of power tools. Let’s say you are looking into options for an employee with pain and cramping in the wrist and hands from all the writing they need to do. This can be a big problem for people with carpal tunnel syndrome. A simple way to help with this is to measure the writing utensil being used (pens, pencil, and whiteboard markers are all common targets for this), and then use a power drill a make a hole through a tennis ball just big enough to fit the utensil through it. Now, the employee can hold onto the ball instead of the pen, pencil, or marker and put less pressure on the wrist to hold it. If you are one to shy away from using power tools, or simply do not own them, there are similar styles of writing aids available to purchase directly from vendors.
I know it is an impulse to immediately think of purchasing something when accommodations are requested. Sometimes this is the only real option. However, I hope this Blog has helped to give you some brain food on what we can do to help accommodate our employees and even ourselves with a little ingenuity. A bit of elbow grease and out of the box thinking can go a long way!
By: Lisa Mathess, Senior Consultant — Motor Team
JAN was lucky enough to travel to sunny California at the beginning of March to present and exhibit at the 32nd Annual CSUN Assistive Technology Conference. JAN has had a presence at this conference consistently for the past 10 years. The exhibit hall held more than 120 exhibitors displaying new and upcoming assistive technologies (AT), along with vendors promoting new improvements on existing products. The JAN booth was buzzing with traffic from service providers, instructors, and individuals with disabilities who all were pleasantly surprised to learn about JAN’s mission and services, especially that they are free! We were also greeted by loyal JAN fans that just stopped by to say, “Hi — glad to see you are here!”
JAN consultants gave two presentations at the conference – the first on accommodating employees with disabilities in a healthcare setting and the second on accommodating educational professionals with AT. If you would like to view corresponding publications on these topics, please see JAN’s Accommodation Ideas by Occupation or Industry.
In between exhibiting and presenting, I managed to find some time to attend some other sessions focusing on accommodations within the Federal government. It is always interesting to see how others implement their accommodation programs and make effective accommodations for their employees. Although the Federal sector is technically covered under the Rehabilitation Act, the same principles apply as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which applies to private employers. The Federal sector strives to be a model employer, so often they are held to higher standards than the ADA would require. It’s also satisfying that during their sessions, these Federal agencies recommended JAN as a resource for accommodation solutions and ADA compliance. For more info, please see Federal Employment of People with Disabilities. Another useful accommodation resource available to some Federal departments is the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP) located at the Department of Defense (DoD). CAP’s mission is “to provide assistive technology and accommodations to support individuals with disabilities and wounded, ill and injured Service members throughout the Federal Government in accessing information and communication technology.”
If you have questions about the JAN presentations at CSUN or want more information on accommodations, please feel free to speak with a JAN consultant at (800) 526-7234 (Voice), (877) 781-9403 (TTY), or visit us online at AskJAN.org.
By: Kim Cordingly, Lead Consultant – Self-Employment Team
“This is a question too difficult for a mathematician. It should be asked of a philosopher.”
(His answer when asked about completing his income tax form). ― Albert Einstein
Tax time for small business owners and self-employed individuals can be extremely stressful. While many tax issues are routinely dealt with throughout the year and with the assistance of an accountant, the month of April still looms large for finalizing tax information. Below are resources to assist with tax issues, including how to access Social Security information that may impact tax planning and preparation. It’s never too early to start planning for next year!
Social Security Benefits Planning
For some, small business and self-employment tax issues are intertwined with Social Security regulations that can be complex and intimidating. Fortunately, there are resources and programs to assist with this. The book Making Self-Employment Work for People with Disabilities (2014) by Griffin et al., includes an excellent chapter on “Small Business and Social Security Income Benefits Analysis” that discusses Social Security benefits, self-employment, and related tax implications. This book should be available through your public library system, or if not, can be requested through the interlibrary loan process at no cost to the borrower.
If receiving Social Security (SSDI and/or SSI), benefits specialists at a Work Incentive Planning and Assistance (WIPA) project can also provide one-on-one assistance at no charge. You can locate the WIPA project that serves your community at the Ticket to Work program site.
For more information about the Ticket to Work program and WIPA projects, you can find help by contacting the Ticket to Work Help Line at (866) 968-7842 (Voice) or (866) 833-2967 (TTY), or find your local WIPA project at Find Help. The WIPA project will be marked by the green circle.
1. Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
We’ve highlighted a variety of IRS resources of particular interest to small business owners, self-employed individuals, and people with disabilities more generally.
Small Business and Self-Employed Tax Center
Self-Employed Individuals Tax Center
Small Business Forms and Publications
Free Tax Return Preparation for Qualifying Taxpayers
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program
IRS Certified Volunteers Providing Free Tax Preparation (Explains what issues they can and cannot assist with)
Find a Location for Free Tax Help
Earned Income Tax Credit
Disability and Earned Income Tax Credit
“The Earned Income Tax Credit, EITC or EIC, is a benefit for working people with low to moderate income. To qualify, you must meet certain requirements and file a tax return, even if you do not owe any tax or are not required to file. EITC reduces the amount of tax you owe and may give you a refund.”
More Information for People with Disabilities
Tax Benefits for Businesses Who Have Employees with Disabilities
Affordable Care Act (ACA) Tax Provisions (Includes tax credit information)
State Government Websites
(Links to relevant state government offices related to small business, taxation, procurement, licensing, and so on)
2. U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA)
Focusing specifically on small business issues, the SBA information expands on tax topics that may be applicable to entrepreneurs with disabilities.
Filing and Paying Taxes
Determine Your State Tax Obligations
Tax Issues for Businesses
4. Job Accommodation Network (JAN)
JAN’s site highlights various tax incentives related to accessibility and the employment of people with disabilities. There may be additional incentives available at the state and local levels as well.
While tax time can be both frustrating and stressful, good information can help make the load a bit lighter. We hope this information helps!
By: Tracie DeFreitas, Lead Consultant – ADA Specialist
JAN recently offered the first Federal Employer Winter Webcast Binge-a-thon — a three-hour Webcast for the federal workforce about job accommodation resources and solutions and compliance with Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act, hosted by expert guest speakers from JAN and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The Binge-a-thon kicked-off with an overview of the EEOC’s January 2017 final rule to amend the regulations implementing Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act, presented by Aaron Konopasky, Senior Attorney Advisor in the ADA/GINA Policy Division at the EEOC. The Rule requires agencies of the federal government to adopt employment goals for individuals with disabilities, with sub-goals for individuals with targeted disabilities, to provide personal assistance services (PAS) to certain employees who need these services because of a disability, and to meet a number of other requirements designed to improve the recruitment, hiring, retention, and advancement of individuals with disabilities in the federal workforce.
The final Rule clarifies the affirmative action requirements of Section 501. To comply with the requirements, federal agencies must develop affirmative action plans and take action to increase the employment of individuals with disabilities, and must also provide PAS to employees with targeted disabilities for work-related reasons. The final Rule gives agencies until January 3, 2018, to make changes to policy, staff, and other operations in order to meet the new requirements. Among the affirmative action and PAS requirements, the Rule also codifies various obligations placed on federal agencies by past management directives and Executive Orders, to bring all of the requirements together under one Rule.
JAN Consultants do provide information and guidance regarding the requirements of Section 501. Like many federal sector employers, our Consultants are learning as much as we can about these new regulations so that we can better assist our customers with their questions. For commonly asked questions about the Rule, see The EEOC’s Final Rule on Affirmative Action for People with Disabilities in Federal Employment. The following bullet points offer a high-level summary of some of the Rule’s requirements:
- Affirmative Action: Federal agencies are required to adopt and implement an Affirmative Action Plan for recruiting, hiring, employing, and advancing individuals with disabilities at all levels of federal employment. The Plan is to be submitted annually to the EEOC. The Plan shall require a commitment to achieve the goal of employing 12% of individuals with disabilities at the GS-11 level and above; 12% at the GS-10 level and below; and 2% who have targeted disabilities, above and below these GS levels. Targeted disabilities are those that fall into a subset of those impairments that meet the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) definition of disability, and are designated on the Office of Personnel Management’s SF-256 Self-Identification Form. Affirmative Action Plans are to be posted on each agency’s public Website.
- Record Keeping: The Rule imposes new record keeping requirements. Federal agencies must keep track of the number of applications received from individuals with disabilities (IWDs) and the number hired; the number of applications received from IWDs with targeted disabilities and the number hired; all job offer rescissions based on medical examinations or medical inquiries; the number of Schedule A appointees; and details regarding all requests for reasonable accommodation. This information must be made available to the EEOC upon request.
- Personal Assistance Services (PAS) as Affirmative Action Requirement: Lack of PAS or fear of losing PAS have been identified as barriers to employment for individuals with some targeted disabilities. The Rule requires federal agencies, as an aspect of affirmative action, to provide PAS to employees who need these services due to a targeted disability, barring undue hardship. PAS are non-medical services that help individuals with disabilities perform activities of daily living, like eating, using the restroom, taking-off a coat, etc. PAS may be assigned during work hours and job-related travel. Agencies may hire an employee or independent contractor to provide PAS, and may provide one-to-one services or hire a pool of PAS providers to serve multiple employees with disabilities. When services are provided one-to-one to a single individual, agencies should give primary consideration to the preferences of the individual. Federal agencies are required to have a written process for employees to request PAS, or may include a PAS process in a formal reasonable accommodation procedure.
- Notification about Reasonable Accommodation Policies and Procedures: The Rule makes clear that federal agencies must have written, easily available and understood reasonable accommodation procedures, available to applicants and employees in written and accessible formats. These procedures must be available on each agency’s public Website.
- Interim Accommodations: When the facts and circumstances known to an agency make it reasonably likely that an employee requesting accommodation will be entitled to it, but the accommodation cannot be provided immediately, then the agency is expected to provide interim accommodations that will enable the performance of some or all of the essential functions of the employee’s job, barring undue hardship.
- Reassignment as Accommodation: Federal agencies must consider reassignment to a vacant position as a reasonable accommodation when no other accommodation will enable an employee with a disability to perform the essential functions of the current position.
- Denial of Reasonable Accommodation: When accommodations are denied, federal agencies must provide the job applicant or employee with a written explanation that includes a reason for the denial, remedies for internal appeal or alternative dispute resolution, and instructions and the timeframe (45 days) for filing a complaint of discrimination with the agency’s EEO Counselor. This notice must be made available in accessible formats.
For more information about affirmative action and workplace discrimination laws, regulations, and Executive Orders that apply to federal agencies, see the EEOC website for the Federal Sector. For information about reasonable accommodation obligations, please contact JAN to speak with a Consultant, or go to AskJAN.org.
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