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
By: Matthew McCord, Consultant – Mobility Team
Support from JAN
In light of the tragedy that occurred at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando this week, I’d like to discuss how experiencing a traumatic event can lead to someone developing a disability or having one exacerbated. It is true that traumatic events happen every day and come in many forms. They can happen in a multitude of ways, and certainly do not need to be on the scale of the horrific events at Pulse for them to be considered traumatic. The possible disabilities an individual could experience as a result of trauma or violence is a long list, and the resulting impairments that one may experience because of this is equally large. These can include mobility impairments as a result of acute injuries that affect walking, standing, grasping, bending and reaching; cognitive/mental health impairments that may lead to difficulty tolerating stress, sleep disruptions, depression, anxiety; or multiple internal injuries that cause chronic pain or headaches.
If you have experienced a traumatic event, be it an event like the tragedy at Pulse or otherwise, we here at JAN can help you explore possible workplace accommodations and understand your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). To give you a starting point of what may be helpful for you to request as an accommodation, please explore the A to Z of Disabilities and Accommodations section of our Website. As always, if you have specific questions do not hesitate to contact us via our toll-free phone, E-mail, or chat. Our services are free and all information is confidential.
LGBTQ Issues, Workplace Discrimination, and the EEOC
As a consultant at JAN, the traumatic shooting at Pulse highlights an important topic in terms of workplace discrimination and employment issues — the fact that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), in addition to enforcing the employment provisions of the ADA and Rehabilitation Act, can also help members of the LGBTQ community when they are subject to discrimination in the workplace. I have read multiple posts on social media during the course of this tragedy stating this trauma is heightened for them by the fact that LGBTQ people still do not have employment protections under federal law. These posts refer to things like at-will employment laws (when an employer can terminate an employee at any time for any reason) and the fact that no federal law specifically mentions providing protections to the LGBTQ community. They state that they can be fired for any reason. But, this is in fact not the case.
The EEOC, which is the federal agency that enforces laws relating to employment discrimination, does in fact accept cases when the discrimination is based on sexual orientation or gender identity. They do this, despite the fact that no federal law specifically mentions that they protect these individuals, because the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides protection against employment discrimination when it is due to reasons relating to sex.
In the publication below, EEOC writes:
“Although Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not explicitly include sexual orientation or gender identity, the EEOC and courts have said that sex discrimination includes discrimination based on an applicant or employee’s gender identity or sexual orientation.”
Preventing Employment Discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender Workers
We all need to do what we can in light of this tragedy. I hope this assists some of you and also helps to honor those who were lost on that night in Orlando.
What You Should Know about EEOC and the Enforcement Protections for LGBT Workers
By: Sarah Small, Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team
This past November, JAN posted a Blog discussing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is often characterized as “winter blues;” it is a type of depression that is associated with the change in seasons. Individuals with SAD may notice their symptoms of depression begin and end around the same time each year. It is thought that SAD occurs due to changes in our circadian rhythms (biological clock), which are often affected by seasonal changes.
While SAD is most commonly associated with the cold winter months, around 10% of individuals who experience SAD see their symptoms occur during the summer. This phenomenon is often referred to as reverse SAD or summer depression.
SAD in the winter is thought to be a result of shorter days and lack of sunlight. Summer SAD is thought to be the opposite — longer days and too much sunlight. Symptoms of reverse SAD may include loss of appetite, weight loss, difficulty sleeping, and feelings of anxiety.
While some individuals with SAD experience their symptoms during the summer months, there are also other factors that may lead to feelings of depression or sadness. During the summer, there can be a lot of disruptions to our normal routines. With summer comes cookouts, vacations, yard work, and many other things that may cause us to feel busier than usual. All of a sudden we are tied down with planning and scheduling to try and fit everything in. This could lead to feelings of burnout.
Summer also means swimming and time at the beach for some. For those with body image issues, this can be a time of increased anxiety. There is suddenly pressure to feel in a good mood – “hey, the weather’s great – go and enjoy the outdoors.” This “pressure” to feel happy and be active when you’re actually feeling depressed or anxious can for some make matters even worse.
Whether you experience summer depression or not, the warm weather and busy schedules can make it hard to concentrate during the work day, especially for those of us with office jobs. We fight the urge of wanting to go outside instead of being cooped up all day. We may start to find ourselves daydreaming about the evening cookout we are going to attend instead of working on the project due by the end of the week.
If you find yourself experiencing exhaustion, lack of motivation, or difficulty with concentration during the next few months, there may be some techniques you can implement into your day to try to help stay on track. As an example, some of our JAN staff members will take a walk around the nearby neighborhood during their lunch break. This can be a great way to get some fresh air and refocus for the afternoon.
Other ideas that can sometimes help with concentration are getting a cold drink of water to sip on, listening to some background music, downloading an app to help you with time management, or prioritizing tasks. These are just some ideas — there may be a variety of others that could help as well. It’s important to be creative — you know you best.
If you do experience SAD that is triggered in the summer and feel this is affecting your performance at work, you may be able to request some accommodations to help. It’s important to note that impairments related to SAD can be serious for those affected in both private life and in the workplace. JAN’s publication Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Mental Health Impairments offers practical accommodation ideas and examples. You can also speak directly with JAN staff for more individualized assistance.
While the summer months can be enjoyable, they can also be hard for some. Whether you experience summer depression or not, make sure you are taking time for self-care. Even though the days are longer, make sure you are still getting an adequate amount of sleep. If too much sun affects you, there are still plenty of activities that can be done indoors or in the shade. If you feel overwhelmed by your schedule, make a priority list to work in some down time for you and your family. Whatever your preference is during the next few months, make wellness and self-care a priority!
Tips for Summer Depression
School’s out. It’s hot. And you’re not having any fun
By: R. Morgan Griffin
Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder: SAD in the Summer
While many get seasonal affective disorder in the winter, 1/10th do over summer
By: Jordan Gaines Lewis
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
By: Mayo Clinic Staff
By: Tracie DeFreitas, Lead Consultant — ADA Specialist
In his beloved book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, Dr. Seuss writes about “The Waiting Place” — an imaginary (or perhaps not) place in life where everyone is waiting for something:
“Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come, or the rain to go, or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow, or waiting around for a Yes or No…”
In my experience, it seems that employers sometimes feel stuck in this very place when medical information is requested after an employee makes a request for accommodation, during the early stage of the interactive accommodation process.
Medical information isn’t always needed when an accommodation is requested. But, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), when the impairment and need for accommodation are not known or obvious, employers do have the right to request documentation that verifies the existence of an impairment; that the impairment affects a major life activity; and that the impairment is substantially limiting in some way. There is no required procedure for employers to follow, or medical certification form that must be used to obtain medical information for ADA purposes. Also, there is no ADA-required time frame for employees to obtain medical information requested by an employer after a request for accommodation. This, in some situations, leads those engaged in the interactive process to…the waiting place.
There are ways to detour the waiting place. One way is to have a comprehensive reasonable accommodation policy that serves as a step-by-step guide for the interactive process and includes time frames for each step — time frames that apply to both the employer and the individual with the disability. As part of the process, employers often require individuals to complete “ADA paperwork” – employer-created documents used to gather information about the individual’s impairment and need for accommodation. This paperwork often includes a request for medical information to support an individual’s request for accommodation. The ADA does not regulate the amount of time employees may take to respond to a request for medical information, and so, an expected return date is a detail that really should be included in a reasonable accommodation policy or procedure, and also on the ADA paperwork.
How much time should an individual be allowed to return ADA paperwork and/or to provide a note from a healthcare provider? Because there is no required time frame under the ADA, I often suggest that employers use the same time frame that applies under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Under the FMLA, employers must allow employees at least fifteen calendar days to obtain the required medical certification (USDOL, 2013). Employees who provide incomplete information should be advised why the certification is incomplete and then allowed a reasonable opportunity to remedy the insufficiency — seven calendar days, for example. Of course, under ADA, the timeframe is up to the employer’s discretion, but this is a sensible place to start and allows time for the individual to meet with his or her healthcare provider. Sometimes, it’s not feasible for the individual to arrange an appointment to see a specialist in this amount of time and exceptions may be necessary. If the employee is making a concerted effort to obtain the required information, take this into consideration.
When there are no time frames, it can be difficult to avoid the waiting place, and this often leads to frustration about how to proceed in the interactive process. So, what can be done to avoid being stuck in the waiting place? Consider the following:
- Request that medical information be provided within a reasonable time frame. Provide an actual deadline. For example, fifteen calendar days after the employer’s initial request.
- Communicate with the employee shortly before the deadline (e.g., five days) to remind the employee, in writing, that the deadline to provide the requested information is approaching.
- If the deadline is not met (even after a reminder), issue a notice that explains that sufficient medical information/completed paperwork was not received and is necessary to proceed with the interactive process. Explain why the information is needed. Consider extending the deadline five more days, or for an appropriate number of days given the specific circumstances (e.g., individual has an appointment with his or her healthcare provider after the specified deadline).
- As a practical matter, when the impairment and need for accommodation are known or obvious, consider focusing on gathering detailed information about the requested accommodation, rather than asking for unnecessary medical information. When medical information is necessary, ask specific job-related medical questions about the individual’s limitations, ability to perform job duties, and need for accommodation, to make the process of obtaining information more efficient. Simply sending the employee to a healthcare provider with a job description will not yield the most useful information. Address the specific work-related issues in order to obtain sufficient information in a timely manner.
- If an accommodation cannot be provided without the requested medical information, because the disability is not known or obvious, it is possible to close or deny a request for accommodation due to failure to receive the necessary medical information. Notify the employee, in writing, why the request was closed or denied.
If the individual’s accommodation request is closed or denied for failing to provide the information, he or she may submit another request at any time. Under the ADA, an individual with a disability may request a reasonable accommodation at any time during the period of employment because the duty to provide reasonable accommodation is an ongoing one (EEOC, 2002). According to the EEOC, if an individual’s disability and need for reasonable accommodation are not obvious, and he or she refuses to provide the reasonable documentation requested by the employer, then he or she will not be entitled to reasonable accommodation (EEOC, 2002).
For more information about requesting medical information under the ADA, please contact JAN to speak with a Consultant, or go to AskJAN.org and see the A-Z of Disabilities and Accommodations section, under the topic of Medical Exams and Inquiries.
U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division. (2013). Fact Sheet #28G: Certification of a Serious Health Condition under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Retrieved May 12, 2016, from https://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs28g.pdf
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (2002). Enforcement guidance on reasonable accommodation and undue hardship under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Retrieved May 12, 2016, from http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/accommodation.html
By: Tracie DeFreitas, Lead Consultant — ADA Specialist
The Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) recently held its annual FMLA/ADA Employer Compliance Conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Being an ADA/FMLA geek, I always enjoy this event and believe it ranks among the top educational opportunities for those involved in absence and disability management. The Compliance Conference offers employers an opportunity to learn about compliance strategies and practical approaches for implementing the myriad of federal and state leave and disability employment laws. Of course, FMLA and ADA take center-stage at this event so many of the speakers are government officials from relevant policy and enforcement agencies like the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC); labor and employment law attorneys; and leave and disability management experts from across the nation.
I appreciate the format of the Compliance Conference, in that, it kicks-off with general sessions offered the entire first day and the morning of the second day. Why is this a smart educational strategy? Offering general sessions for all participants to attend insures that everyone has the opportunity to be informed about compliance updates together without having to pick and choose which sessions to attend based on interests or professional needs. And, unlike many conferences where general sessions are often rather “fluffy,” the general sessions offered during this year’s conference were robust. Practical information was offered by experts who shared examples of court decisions that illustrate recent compliance developments, top challenges for employers in leave and accommodation administration and tools to support these efforts, industry best practices, ways to avoid lawsuits, and strategies for engaging in the interactive process.
This year, a new FMLA compliance assistance guide was announced during one of the general sessions. Helen Applewhaite, Branch Chief, Branch of FMLA and Other Labor Standards, Wage and Hour Division, U.S. DOL, announced that they have released an Employer’s Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act. Employers have long-awaited a guide of this kind to answer common FMLA questions and clarify responsibilities and protections. This guide offers a road map that begins with an employee’s leave request and guides employers from granting leave to restoring the employee to the same or an equivalent position at the end of the leave period. It addresses many complicated FMLA requirements in a practical manner that includes “Did you know?” tips for compliance.
In addition to the new Employer’s Guide, DOL recently issued a new General Notice FMLA poster. All FMLA-covered employers are required to display a DOL poster summarizing the major provisions of the FMLA. Employers are not required to replace their current poster with the new version, but the new version highlights information regarding employees’ rights and employers’ obligations in a more reader-friendly format.
JAN does not offer detailed technical assistance on the FMLA. However, FMLA and ADA issues often overlap, and so, JAN consultants do address some of the more common FMLA issues and refer customers to DOL and other relevant resources for detailed technical assistance. JAN offers a number of FMLA-related resources on our Website, in our A-Z of Disabilities and Accommodations section, under the topic of Family and Medical Leave Act, including the new Employer’s Guide and also DOL’s Employee’s Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act.
By: Teresa Goddard, Lead Consultant – Sensory Team
Cooking and eating together are powerful ways of building relationships and creating a sense of community at work. Whether you are seeking to include an employee in cooking activities, or accommodating a food service employee with a vision impairment, there are many ways to make a kitchen more accessible to employees with vision impairments.
Some typical suggestions for accommodating cooks with low vision include the following:
- Use measuring tools with large print, color coding or tactile marking, or modify existing measuring cups and spoons with customized markings.
- Use knife guards or specialized tools such as vegetable peelers for cutting and peeling.
- Use guards, cut proof gloves and other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as needed when handling or cleaning sharp objects.
- Use measuring tools and cutting boards that contrast with the substance being measured or cut.
- Use an ice cream scoop to measure cookie dough and place on a baking sheet.
- Use parchment paper when baking to prevent sticking and simplify cleaning.
- Use color coded prep bowls to keep track of ingredients that have been measured out.
- Use liquid level indicators when pouring hot liquids.
- Use talking thermometers and timers.
- Use oven mitts when handling pots and pans.
- Use extra-long oven mitts, oven rack grabbers, and oven rack guards for oven tasks.
- Use magnifiers, bar code readers, or Optical Character Reading (OCR) technology to access information on labels.
- Avoid placing pots, pans, and bowls directly on slippery or slick surfaces.
- Use pot stabilizers for safer pouring and ladling.
- Use boil control discs to prevent boil overs.
- Make a plan for how to effectively clean and sanitize cooking area, dishes and utensils.
- Use a talking calculator when modifying, halving, or multiplying a recipe.
- Consider induction cooktops for increased safety when practical.
- Modify lighting according to need. Some individuals need more lighting or task lighting, other may need lower light levels, filtering of light sources, or an alternate type of light source.
- Use dial type controls, which may be easier to modify/memorize.
- Use tactile marking or color coding to mark important buttons.
- Try magnification or hand held OCR to better access digital displays.
- Use a talking oven thermometer to verify oven temperature.
- Digitize inventory and temperature logs as needed for improved accessibility.
- Use fluorescent tape to mark routes of travel and tips of stairs.
- Seek customized recommendations and individualized assistive technology (AT), occupational therapy (OT), or vision rehabilitation therapy (VRT) assessments when appropriate.
Visit the JAN Website for more information on low vison cooking aids.
The American Foundation for the Blind offers information on modified tools and methods for safe cooking for individuals with low or no vision.
Many tools that may be useful to a cook, chef, or baker with low vision can be found at vendors of standard and commercial kitchen supplies. There are however some vendors with specialized products for individuals with low vision that include kitchen aids. Examples of these types of low vision aids for cooking tasks can be found here, here, and here.
You can link here to information on talking thermometers.
JAN’s Website includes information on talking bar code scanners and talking scales.
For highly specialized cooking and baking tasks, scientific instruments designed for use by individuals who are blind may be helpful.
If you would like to discuss specific accommodation situations in more detail, we invite you to contact JAN directly.
By: Kim Cordingly, Lead Consultant – Self-Employment Team
Many JAN customers contact us with an interest in starting a food related business.
Below is a sample of the type of food businesses we have been contacted about:
- Food truck or concession
- Cottage food product (such as homemade jams, cookies, breads, and so on) –typically sold at a farmer’s market, local shop, or online
- Catering service
- Coffee/tea cart
- Fruit/vegetable stand
- Consumer supported agriculture (CSA) – subscribing to receive produce from a local farm throughout their growing season
- Cupcake shop
- Limited or full service restaurant or bakery
While the scale of planning requirements and applicable food laws and regulations involved for each of these businesses can be quite different, we’ve included below some general tips that can be instrumental in making any food related venture successful.
Tip 1: Take the time from the outset to research your business idea in the context of your local community and potential market
JAN is located in Morgantown, WV – a medium sized college town with a large public university and many coffee drinkers. Theoretically, opening a coffee shop seems like a sure bet in a town like this. Yet over the years, many coffee shops have come and gone, while a small number have endured. Why? Bad coffee? No parking? Too pricey? If you are considering opening a coffee shop, an important step is to map this market – both historically and now. Which markets are being filled and which are not? What makes what you will offer different, better, cheaper or more desirable? I remember when it was considered to be a competitive edge to have Wifi access. Now this is available in almost any coffee shop, fast food restaurant, or bookstore. My point is that whatever your business idea – even before you embark on a formal business or marketing planning process – get to know your local community and potential market well.
Tip 2: Start small, test your ideas, then scale up
You have a dream of opening a small storefront bakery selling breads, cakes, muffins, and pies. You’ve been baking your whole life and inherited a number of wonderful family recipes you’d like to use. But where to start? Even with a small shop, the initial costs appear daunting – rent, commercial cooking equipment, baking ingredients, insurance, advertising, and so on. If you’ve ever watched the Food Network TV show Cupcake Wars, you may have noticed some of these expert bakers do not have their own storefront shops yet. They are either making their products in their home; in a rented commercial kitchen space; at a culinary incubator; as a business within an already established business; or another creative arrangement. The reason for this is it gives the entrepreneur the chance to start small and test their product ideas without the huge capital investment. This also gives you the chance to build up a client base, establish local business and financial relationships, and then scale up your operation. For example, you might begin by investing in a booth at the local farmer’s market and sell baked goods there. Further down the road, you might advertise at the booth being available to cater parties and special events. You might also make an arrangement to sell baked goods at the local food coop or coffee shops. Through this process, you are collecting data about what works and what doesn’t – what types of muffins are most popular — refining not only recipes but your own vision for your future storefront bakery.
Tip 3: Learn the state and local regulations and laws that apply to your food business
Producing food products commercially whether in a food truck, home kitchen, or restaurant are governed by strict laws and regulations that ensure sanitary standards and the safety of products sold to customers. You need to know what laws and regulations will apply to your business. Some businesses may require special permits – such as those operating a food truck or a business in the home. Organizations such as a local your Small Business Development Center, a Women’s Business Center, or your state extension service are often a good place to start. Your state Department of Agriculture will also have information about food related businesses. Many will also have guides about starting a food related business such as this one available for food entrepreneurs in Pennsylvania.
Some states have passed Cottage Food Laws, which Harvard University’s Food Law and Policy Clinic defines in its publication Cottage Food Laws in the United States (2013) as:
At their most basic, cottage food laws permit the in‐home production and sale of non‐potentially hazardous foods. As of the publication of this report, forty‐two states had some sort of cottage food law, and nine states, including Washington, D.C., did not. Although more than two‐thirds of states have cottage food laws, there is no uniformity among the laws. Some states restrict home‐based food processing activities to a very narrow category of processors (such as on‐farm only). Others cap allowable sales at a low amount, such that in‐home processing activities can only be a hobby and not a viable business or launching pad for a more traditional food processing business. Some cottage food laws are relatively easy to find in the states’ laws and have clear requirements, while other states’ cottage food laws are difficult to find and may not clearly state the requirements for a cottage food operation.
These laws will vary by state, but may also be guided by additional regulations at the city level, such as these in the City of Chicago. You will need to do your research to find out what laws, regulations, or permits will apply to your business.
Tip 4: Build any needed accommodations into the design of your business and test them out
This tip is certainly not exclusive to a food business, but can be very important particularly with accommodations that involve food related work environments such as kitchens, food trucks, shops, or farmer’s markets, as examples. JAN consultants can suggest specific accommodation examples and products, but some potential examples in the food industry may include:
From the JAN’s Searchable Online Accommodation Resource (SOAR):
Gripping or Pinching Tools or Objects – This could apply to cooking utensils such ergonomic knives; reachers to eliminate bending; or specialized baking equipment.
Sitting – This could include anti-fatigue mats for those who need to need to be on their feet all day; headsets that free up hands for cooking; or copyholders that could also hold recipes.
Moving, Carrying, or Lifting Materials or People – Lifting devices to move large food products; motorized carts for use when catering; or eating aids.
Food related business ideas are increasingly popular for JAN customers. We’ve highlighted a few tips that can help in the development of these types of businesses. For more specific information about becoming a food entrepreneur, contact JAN directly and we would be happy to put together individualized resources for you.
By: Melanie Whetzel, Lead Consultants – Cognitive/Neurological Team
While some of you may be familiar with the two dyslexia fonts highlighted below, many may not be aware of the specifics of how they can assist as reading improvement tools. Several of our JAN staff learned more about these fonts while attending the 2016 CSUN Conference — 31st Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference held at California State University Northridge in San Diego a couple of weeks ago.
Both of the following fonts have been shown to be highly effective in improving reading skills for many people with dyslexia by helping to better differentiate between letters, aiding in the reading process.
Here’s a brief look at how they work:
Dyslexie uses a heavier, bolder line thickness that emphasizes the bottom of most letters. This anchors the letters and helps prevent substituting, rotating, and flipping of letters. The Dyslexie font is designed so that every letter has its own unique form. Some differences between the Dyslexie font and others are slanted lines, weighted bottoms, larger openings in the letters, such as a, e, and c. The ascending stems of letters like f and h have been made taller, as well as the descending tails of letters such as p, q, and y. The spacing between letters and words is increased to prevent crowding. The capital letters and punctuation marks are bolder so that it is easier to identify the beginning and ending of sentences.
OpenDyslexic is a font also created to increase readability for individuals with dyslexia. The typeface includes regular, bold, italic, and bold-italic styles. OpenDyslexic is created to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. Letters have heavily weighted bottoms to indicate direction. Readers are able to quickly figure out which part of the letter is down, aiding in letter recognition, and helping keep the brain from rotating them around. Consistently weighted bottoms can also help reinforce the line of text. The unique shapes of each letter can help prevent confusion through flipping and swapping. OpenDyslexic is being continually updated and improved based on input from users with dyslexia.
If you or someone you know has dyslexia, be sure to check out both Dyslexie and OpenDyslexic to see how effective they might be!
For information on Accommodation Ideas for Learning Disabilities, visit our JAN Website.