By: Melanie Whetzel, Lead Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) celebrated its 26th anniversary this past July. This legislation is purposed to improve the lives of people with disabilities by protecting their rights to have access to employment, public entities, transportation, public accommodations and commercial facilities, telecommunications and more. It helps people with disabilities compete equally for employment and receive the accommodations and protections they need to work.
Are you in need of reasonable accommodations in the workplace due to a disability? Do you know what steps to take in order to get the process started? Disclosure is the first and sometimes the most difficult step. Just thinking about this can often cause anxiety and stress. So what exactly is disclosure?
Disclosure is divulging or giving out personal information about a disability. It is important for the employee to provide information about the nature of the disability, the limitations involved, and how the disability affects the ability to learn and/or perform the job effectively. The employer has a right to know if a disability is involved when an employee asks for accommodations. Ideally, employees will disclose a disability and request accommodations before performance problems arise, or at least before they become too serious.
Let’s look at three main reasons why someone with a disability may choose to disclose a disability to their employer:
1). To ask for job accommodations. As an example, a bus garage employee with a reading disability missed instructions and important announcements that were sent via e-mail. As an accommodation, he requested screen reading software that allows text to be converted into computer synthesized speech.
2). To receive benefits or privileges of employment. The ADA requires employers to provide accommodations so that employees with disabilities can enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment equal to those enjoyed by similarly-situated employees without disabilities. Benefits and privileges of employment include employer-sponsored training, access to cafeterias, lounges, gymnasiums, auditoriums, transportation, and parties or other social functions. For example, an employee with Down syndrome signed up for a nutrition class, but had trouble understanding the information that was presented. His employer asked the instructor to provide pictures of the types of food she was recommending employees eat. The employee was able to use these pictures when making food choices.
3). To explain an unusual circumstance. For instance, someone with temperature sensitivities due to multiple sclerosis (MS) may need to explain to his employer why it would be helpful to work from home while the office air conditioner is being repaired.
Disclosure can be quite simple. You can tell your employer that you need to talk about an adjustment or change that is essential for a reason related to a medical condition. You may use plain English to request an accommodation. You do not have to mention the ADA nor use the phrase “reasonable accommodation.” It can be as easy as saying to your supervisor, “I need to talk to you about the difficulty I encounter when I try to hand write notes due to a medical condition.”
Questions about disclosure? Contact JAN for more information or to discuss an accommodation situation with a consultant.
JAN Topic — Disclosure
The ADA in 2016
JAN ADA Library
By: 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: 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: 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.
By: Melanie Whetzel, Lead Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team
After the long, dark, and cold winter, we yearn for spring. We look forward to warmth, flowers, birdsong, and spending time outdoors. We also look forward to the opportunity to spring clean our homes, workspaces, and classrooms. What better time to get rid of clutter and lighten up? It would be a much easier task if it were one we kept up with throughout the year, but most of us find that difficult to do.
While for some of us messiness may be a routine annoyance, for employees with organizational difficulties as a result of attention deficit disorder (ADD), cognitive issues and/or fatigue due to cancer treatments, fibromyalgia, brain injury, multiple sclerosis (MS), or other impairments, creating and maintaining order may be especially challenging.
For those of you who work from home, you may find it even more difficult to keep up with the clutter in your work space. Maybe the fact that you don’t have co-workers who can see your mess makes it easier to let it go and let it grow! There is also the chance at home that items not belonging in your office have an easier time migrating there.
Regardless of whether you work in a classroom, an office, a cubicle, or a home office, reducing the disarray in your workspace may very well increase your sense of professionalism and productivity. Look to the following tips for help in organizing your workspace and reducing your clutter to a more manageable level.
- Don’t become overwhelmed when you look at the area about to be cleaned. Take heart! Be brave!
- Start from one side of the room, area, or desk and move in a path to the opposite side.
- Remove rarely used tools and gadgets from your desk top and drawers. Place them in a storage area that is convenient for when you do need them. Label areas for easy retrieval.
- Do you have books that you rarely use? Remove those to storage as well. If you haven’t used a particular book within the last 60-90 days, it is probably not something you need to have at your fingertips.
- If you are a collector of whatnots and trinkets, consider limiting the number you display on your desk at a time. Put the others into storage and plan to rotate them in and out for a fresh new look.
- If you have extra furniture in your space that is not needed, consider removing it. It may create more surface area that allows you to collect even more clutter.
- Think about hanging photos of your family, sports teams, etc., on the walls instead of having them take up desk space.
- If you have a mountain of paperwork, go through it with only three categories in mind: things to act on, things to file, and things to toss.
- Color-code files to help identify them with ease.
- Invest in stackable bins or trays for papers. Label them.
- Use a bulletin or magnetic board to keep often-used items, schedules, or policies / procedures within eyesight. If you are a person who likes to collect photos, cards, or whatever, consider having one board for work use and one for personal use.
- Have a trash can handy while opening mail. Toss absolutely everything that does not need to be responded to or remembered.
- If your office recycles paper, have a tray handy for that. Take to the larger recycling area at least weekly.
- Arrange the items on your desk and in your office according to how you use them. Your desk and surrounding office / cubicle space may look different if you are left-handed, for example.
- Having an efficient usable workspace isn’t about it looking good, it’s more about the space being functional for you and your needs in your particular job.
- Try to reserve 10 minutes at the end of each day to put things away, clear off your workspace, and prepare for the next day.
You can take charge and control your clutter by not allowing it to accumulate. Then when spring rolls around, you may be able to spend more time enjoying the flowers, the birds, and the outdoors!
By: Teresa Goddard, Lead Consultant — Sensory Team; Kelsey Lewis, Consultant — Cognitive/Neurological Team; Lisa Mathess, Senior Consultant — Motor Team
At the beginning of February, a few JAN consultants had the privilege to travel to sunny Orlando, Florida to attend the annual Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) conference. All week, JAN was well represented with a booth in the exhibit hall along with consultants giving three presentations on a range of topics.
As part of the educational sessions, JAN offered a presentation titled Apps at Work: Accommodating Employees Effectively with Mobile Technology! showcasing a variety of mobile apps that could be used as part of, or as, a reasonable accommodation in the workplace. JAN talked about apps for limitations stemming from sensory, motor, cognitive, and psychiatric impairments.
JAN also gave a presentation on real-life situations and solutions from inquiries handled by our consultants regarding employees with multiple impairments and therefore various limitations. The presentation Multiple Impairments, Multiple Limitations: Accommodating Employees with Complex Needs was well received, as accommodation needs can be very complex and ever changing.
Finally, on the last day of the conference, JAN collaborated with alliance partner AbleData and presented on assistive technology options and accommodation ideas for employees with autoimmune disorders — Workplace Accommodations & AT for Individuals with Autoimmune Disorders.
The exhibit booth was visited by people from a variety of backgrounds, including educational professionals, rehabilitation professionals, students, employees with disabilities, and product manufacturers. Consultants discussed the various services offered at JAN and handed out publications and goodies to over 300 attendees.
If you’re interested in viewing the presentation PowerPoints, they are available on the JAN Website for download.
One of the things that we as JAN consultants enjoy most about attending conferences is visiting the booths of other service providers and vendors. Conference exhibit halls are a practical and hands-on way for us to keep up with the latest information on assistive technologies and disability services so that we can share up-to-date information with our consumers. This year, the ATIA exhibit hall showcased a wide variety of vendors and organizations. As usual, vendors of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices and vision-related products were well represented. Due to the recent merger of Dynavox and Tobii, both of which are well known for their AAC devices and eye gaze systems, we were particularly interested to see how they would combine their product lines. We learned that the DynaWrite2.0, a speech-generating device particularly well suited to meet the needs of literate adults who need to be able to use a land line phone for work, had been discontinued. However, one of the Tobii DynaVox reps assured us that a similar product, the highly portable Lightwriter SL40 Connect, will continue to be available. The Lightwriter can be used to make mobile phone calls.
In addition to presenting for JAN, we were able to attend multiple educational sessions. One unique and entertaining session was called Music-Making = Differentiated Instruction and Unique Therapy Protocols, which featured a new [to us] product called Beamz. Beamz is a laser-based music device. It includes three prongs (shaped like a “W”) and laser beams running from each prong. Each laser acts as a different musical instrument that can be played with the stroke of a hand.
The Beamz device can link to IOS products, MAC, and PC, allowing users to view the corresponding instrument with a laser beam on the screen of their device. Users can choose among many genres, including country, hip hop, classical, and even nature sounds. In addition, users can choose to add their own musical twist to already-synced songs ranging from Beamz original compositions, to karaoke hits, and today’s latest radio jams.
Beamz is currently used in multiple settings including schools, geriatric and long-term care facilities, at home, and as a therapy/ rehabilitation tool. It is thought to improve cognition, socialization, and motivation through memory recall, improved communication, and “brain fitness.” Beamz also claims to help with fine and gross motor skills along with improving range of motion.
By Tracie DeFreitas, Lead Consultant — ADA Specialist
Lately, I’ve had that holiday tune, Baby It’s Cold Outside, melodically playing in my mind (imagine the Lady Gaga and Tony Bennet rendition). The song makes me smile and, ironically, warms my soul. Of course, it’s the holiday season and that means the song is playing everywhere we go. But, this isn’t the only reason I’ve had this catchy tune on my mind; JAN customers have me thinking of it as well. Now that winter has arrived, we’ve been hearing from employers who have questions about accommodating employees who are sensitive to cold temperatures. Interestingly though, the questions have been about the impact of exposure to cold indoor temperatures.
Thermostat wars are a common ongoing battle in the office. You’ve experienced it, right? Co-workers stealthily sneaking around the corner, adjusting the heat up or down to their comfort level when no one else is watching. It’s probably fair to say that there is no particular temperature that is comfortable for everyone. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not regulate indoor workplace temperature but does recommend that temperatures be maintained in the range of 68-76° F. This range may be comfortable for many workers, but not all. Although this indoor temperature range is suggested, some workplaces maintain indoor temperatures (in cool and warm months) that fall well below 68° (I’ve heard as low as 61°), making it a frigid environment, particularly for those who are medically sensitive to cold temperatures.
Sensitivity to cold temperatures is a limitation associated with a number of impairments, including anemia, asthma, diabetes, Raynaud’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, and thyroid disorders. Some individuals with these types of impairments experience joint pain, stiffness, or numbness in their extremities (i.e., hands, fingers, toes) in response to cold temperatures, while others experience difficulty breathing. Exposure to cold temperatures at work can cause these symptoms to flare-up, making it difficult for an affected employee to perform job duties. This can lead to a request for accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
One solution for dealing with the effects of the cold indoors is a small space heater to be used at an employee’s workstation. JAN Consultants are frequently asked if an employer has any obligation to provide a space heater as an accommodation for an employee who requests one due to a medical impairment. This isn’t about providing a space heater simply to improve personal comfort, but rather, to enable an employee to manage the impact of the cold on their impairment, and in-turn, performance. Some employers provide space heaters to employees for non-disability related reasons, or allow employees to bring their own heaters to work. But, is there a duty to provide a space heater as an accommodation under the ADA? Or, is a space heater a personal need item?
In situations where the temperature is extreme, it could possibly be argued that if the employer is creating a workplace barrier by maintaining an indoor temperature that 1) falls below the minimum suggested standard, and 2) has an adverse effect on an employee’s medical impairment and ability to perform job duties, then the employer may have some responsibility to provide a reasonable accommodation to eliminate that barrier – this could include providing a space heater. If a healthcare provider can confirm the existence of an impairment and that the extreme temperature of the work environment causes limitations that affect performance, then there will be medical justification for the accommodation.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has stated that, in some situations, items that might otherwise be considered personal may be required as reasonable accommodations where they are required to meet job-related rather than personal needs (EEOC, 2002). While a space heater may seem like a personal need item, when it is needed to help an employee perform job duties effectively, it may be a reasonable accommodation. It often makes sense to err on the side of caution, do a risk analysis, and use common sense when considering accommodations. At a cost of about $30.00 for a small space heater, it may be difficult to demonstrate that this low-cost solution is not reasonable. And, it’s certainly a lot less expensive to provide the accommodation than to deal with a disability discrimination complaint alleging failure to provide a reasonable accommodation.
In addition to a space heater, there are other accommodations that might be considered to manage the cold indoors. Some ideas can be found on JAN’s AskJAN.org website under A-Z, by limitation, temperature sensitivity, but consider the following:
- Adjust work-site temperature
- Redirect or cover air vents using air deflectors or vent covers
- Do not situate workstation under air vents, near cold windows, or near opening exterior doors
- Move workstation to warmer area of building
- Use window insulation, rubber weather sealing, heavy curtains, or shades on windows to reduce draft
- Provide an enclosed workspace with separate temperature control
- Allow use of heated blanket, heating pad, hand warmers, etc.
- Modify dress code to allow wearing of layers, gloves, outerwear, etc.
- Provide speech recognition software to limit keyboarding
- Allow flexible scheduling
- Allow flexible use of leave
- Allow work from home or an alternate (warmer) location
Accommodation needs and situations vary. If you have a specific situation or question you’d like to discuss with a JAN consultant, we’ll be happy to assist you. Contact us directly or visit AskJAN.org.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (2002). Enforcement guidance on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Retrieved from http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/accommodation.html
By: Sarah Small, Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team
As I was driving on the interstate this past week, I couldn’t help but notice that most of the trees had lost their leaves. The beautiful reds, yellows, and oranges have slowly become bare branches. This, along with the slowly declining temperatures means one thing…winter is coming. Winter has its own excitement with the holidays and many traditions; however, at times it tends to bring with it feelings of dread. Winter means snow, ice, and for those of us in daylight savings time, shorter days. It’s easy to feel not ready and sad as the warm days leave us. But for some people, these feelings can be more intense than others.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that comes and goes with the change in seasons. SAD is most common in the winter months starting in the beginning of fall and peaking in December, January, and February (Mental Health America).
Common symptoms include:
- Irritability and stress intolerance
- Decreased energy
- Changes in weight
- Difficulty concentrating
- Changes in appetite
- Decreased interest in daily activities, sex, and social interactions
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
While the cause of SAD is unknown, it is believed that the reduced level of sunlight during the winter months disrupts the body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm), as well as the body’s levels of serotonin and melatonin (Mayo Clinic). This can impact sleep patterns as well as mood.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are certain factors that increase an individual’s risk for SAD. These risk factors include:
- Being female
- Age – onset typically between the ages of 18 and 30
- Family history of SAD
- Having depression or bipolar disorder
- Living far north or south of the equator- it is said to be rare in those who live within 30 degrees of the equator
Treatment for SAD can include prescription medications that fall within the same family of drugs that help treat depression. These types of drugs are typically non-sedative selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) drugs.
Another type of treatment is phototherapy. This type of therapy includes exposure to high intensity bright lights such as sun lamps or sun boxes. These forms of light are often portable and can easily be placed on a desk or table in a work area. They also can be used at home to simulate natural light and help reduce fatigue and feelings of depression.
Additional information regarding SAD as well as a variety of light products can be found at this Consultants’ Corner.
JAN also offers information on accommodating individuals with various types of depression in the workplace — Accommodation Ideas for Depression.
While the winter months can bog us down with gray skies and cold weather, make sure to find time these next few months for things you enjoy. Whether it’s spending time with family and friends, planning a ski trip, or curling up on the couch with a good book and some hot chocolate, don’t forget to take time for yourself. Spring will be here before we know it!
Mayo Clinic – Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Mental Health America – Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)