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: 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: Sheryl Grossman, Consultant – Motor Team
February is Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month. What I find fascinating is the story of the woman behind this initiative — Shelly Thomas Christensen. I spoke with Shelly recently to discuss her experience as a parent, advocate and business woman.
Shelly identifies as a mom of a son with Asperger’s Syndrome who was not diagnosed until he was in high school. She reports feeling frustrated and angry as she advocated for him to receive services in his public school, seeing firsthand how little the professionals at his school were invested in him achieving academic success.
“I just detest people blocking others’ success,” she reflected inspiring her to turn her energy towards making a difference in this arena. Convinced she could change the way things were, she became a trained parent advocate, gaining knowledge and strength. Although her son’s experience in his synagogue school was positive because he was treated like any other student, Shelly learned this was not the case for many people in the Jewish community. This motivated her to turn her attention to a new initiative at the Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis supporting people with disabilities in Jewish community life.
“We are not just someone’s mitzvah project,” she says. “All people deserve the respect to grow to be who they can be, including holding a job. That was the beginning,” she reflects.
While surrounded by successful business owners with disabilities, Shelly experienced her “aha” moment: “If people with disabilities can own their own businesses, so can I!” Learning from those whom she initially helped realize their potential, Shelly launched her consulting company — Inclusion Innovations. What she quickly noticed was that she was one of a handful of people representing faith communities in important disability rights spaces and decided to spread this novel idea throughout the Jewish community. She describes her business as designing, “individualized strategies and programs for faith communities ready to explore ways to shift to a more inclusive environment.” Through this work, she could help individuals with disabilities get more of what they want out of life as valued members of the Jewish community. For Shelly, helping someone get what they want and need out of their faith community naturally leads to these same individuals being seen by their fellow congregants as multifaceted individuals — employees, spouses, parents, athletes, and so much more. She emphasizes, “When we value people, anything is possible.”
By: Kim Cordingly, Lead Consultant – Self-Employment
At almost every event or conference I attend, one of the questions I’m frequently asked is, “What kind of businesses do people with disabilities start?” My response to the question tends to reframe it, because almost any type of business you can imagine a person without a disability might want to start, is just as likely to be a business idea we’ve consulted about. I’m continually amazed at the creativity, vision, and resourcefulness these aspiring entrepreneurs reveal in their ideas.
Choosing self-employment or starting a small business in many cases enables an individual with a disability to build workplace accommodations into the design of their business. This ability to customize is one of its key benefits. At JAN, we can address both inquiries about the business development process, as well as specific accommodation questions.
While all information provided to JAN is confidential, and people are understandably protective of their unique business ideas, I’d like to share in general terms some of the business ideas JAN callers have contacted us about over the years. All the names used in the examples are pseudonyms.
WELDER/ARTIST – “Ken” had extensive experience in welding as a technical career, but also wanted to develop his artistic side. His plan was to contract out his welding services while also producing works of art using welding techniques and leftover metal materials.
PET SUPPORT FOR SENIORS – “Nellie” wanted to provide support services to seniors and their pets – specifically handling those tasks a senior may no longer comfortably be able to do such as walking the dog, taking the pet to vet appointments, and so on.
BOOK ILLUSTRATOR – “Angela” had extensive experience in the publishing industry, but preferred to do the work as a contractor on a project to project basis. In such a specialized field and with a background in specific types of detailed illustrations, this made for an excellent self-employment transition.
EVENT PLANNER/WEDDING SITE – “Alex” owned beautiful rural property conducive to a wedding venue, so wanted to build on this asset and develop additional wedding services to compliment the use of the site.
PROFESSIONAL SCIENCE WRITER – “Margaret” had extensive academic training in the sciences and wanted to parlay this into a professional writing career. In particular, she was interested in writing about environmental topics of importance to her.
BOUTIQUE/COTTAGE FOOD PRODUCTION – “Paul” had family recipes he felt were delicious, regionally unique, and marketable. With the growth of farmer’s markets and a focus on buying local, he believed customers would be very interested in his products.
TECH SUPPORT – “Keith” had been providing tech support to friends and friends of friends for years, but was now ready to turn it into a business where he would be compensated. He also wanted to focus on providing computer support to small businesses in his community who may not be able to afford their own IT person.
COUTURE WEDDING GOWNS – “Cathy” had over the years developed great design and sewing skills and was interested in a business making one-of-a-kind, couture wedding gowns for her clientele.
MOBILE AUTO DETAILING – “Donna” planned a business where she would go to people’s homes or businesses and detail their cars. No need to drop their car off – she would go to them.
BLUEBERRY FARMER – “Carl” was a savvy farmer who had over the years developed a blueberry bush that could withstand variable climates and soil conditions. He planned to sell them across the U.S. via mail order catalog and online.
FOOD TRUCK VENDOR – “Mike” saw a need for a food truck vendor at kids’ baseball games, local flea markets, and other community events. He wanted to offer a delicious but healthier alternative to french fries and cotton candy.
ALTERNATIVE ENERGY CONSULTANT – “Tom” had extensive experience in the alternative energy sector and wanted to consult with small businesses and homeowners on how to make their building more energy efficient and better for the environment.
RV AND CAMPSITE OWNER – “Sandy” and her family wanted to turn their property on a lake into a RV park and campground that would focus on the accessibility of the site for vacationers with disabilities.
ONLINE TUTOR – “Alice” was a former teacher with an excellent math/science background who wanted to tutor secondary school age adolescents in these disciplines. She would also help prepare students for college entrance exams.
RECORDING ENGINEER (CONTRACTOR) – With the proliferation of sophisticated computer and audio technology, “Sam” would use his skills and his own equipment to work with independent musical artists to create sound recordings.
JEWELRY DESIGNER – “Sue” designs nature-inspired jewelry and wanted to expand her business beyond her local market to include online sites such as Etsy. This would also allow her to do more specialized custom design work.
COACHING/CURRICULUM DEVELOPER – “Naomi” wanted to use her extensive oratory experience to work as a private coach for clients who had difficulty with public speaking, constructing effective presentations, and general assertiveness training in the workplace. She was also interested in developing an online training curriculum on these topics.
Job Accommodation Network (JAN) – Entrepreneurship
Office of Disability Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor
Self-Employment & Entrepreneurship
Making Self-Employment Work for People with Disabilities (2nd Edition, 2014)
Cary Griffin, David Hammis, Beth Keeton and Molly Sullivan
By: Kim Cordingly, Lead Consultant – Self-Employment Team
Over the years, JAN consultants have fielded questions from aspiring entrepreneurs with many different types of disabilities and every conceivable variation of business idea. Frog farm – we’ve heard of it. Opera singer and teacher – how wonderful! Used automobile sculptures – why not? Many of the business ideas we hear about are absolutely brilliant – inspired – practical – imaginative – marketable – and feasible. But to get from here to there takes lots of good information and support, and on the part of the individual wanting to start a business, both knowledge and practical skills.
Many so called “soft skills” cannot be emphasized enough as being critical to the success of both planning and operating a small business or self-employment. Soft skills are frequently characterized as those that encompass proficiency with verbal and nonverbal communication, a positive attitude and enthusiasm, teamwork and networking behaviors, problem solving and critical thinking skills, and acting with professionalism. The very process of researching and planning for a business requires skills that will be necessary in the start-up and operations stages of business development. As a result, these are skills we try to focus on from the outset — either as best practices or in the context of accommodations — and encourage JAN customers to develop further both in how they interact with us, as well as those they reach out to with other programs and services in their local areas.
Based on our experience, I’ve highlighted below some “Dos and Don’ts” that frequently come up with our customers. Often they seem small or common sense, but they frequently have huge implications in how seriously one’s ideas will be taken by others, and whether an individual is perceived as committed to a business idea and the development process.
Tip 1: Be Specific
You’ve requested information from a program or agency and they’ve responded to you by preparing information based on your request. You have follow-up questions. What do you do?
DO: Review the information they sent to you carefully. If you need support to do this, let an appropriate person/service provider know. I cannot emphasize this enough. If they’ve prepared the information for you, take the time to review it thoroughly.
DO: Once you’ve reviewed the information, write down (or prepare somehow) follow-up questions that reference as specifically as possible the material you received. This communicates to the person or agency that you value their time; this also makes it more likely they will be able to respond appropriately to your questions, as well as be willing to network with you in the future.
DON’T: Ask extremely general questions – ask questions that show you have reviewed the information and reference it. This demonstrates good critical thinking and communication skills – you are sharing the concrete steps you’ve taken to review the information and follow-up if applicable. Again, if accommodations are needed, JAN consultants can assist with this.
An unhelpful question tends to be very general – “I don’t understand the information you sent to me. Could you explain it?”
A helpful question is more specific – “On page 3 of the information you sent to me you talk about Social Security work incentives and self-employment. This is confusing to me. I wonder if you could explain more clearly how these rules work. If you need more information about my specific situation, I’d be glad to share this information.”
Tip 2: Always Be Professional, Even When Irritated
You’re in the process of putting together your business plan and are following up with business development organizations to schedule an appointment with a counselor. Some agencies you’ve contacted have not called back in a timely manner, so you’re feeling frustrated. What do you do?
DO: Keep a good record of the dates and times you’ve contacted an agency and cite this information when you call back. If they have not called back in a reasonable amount of time (I usually say a few days unless they’ve said it will be within another time frame), call back and let them know you called earlier, left a message (if you did), and have the date/time information ready.
DO: Make sure you are (and sound) assertive, not agitated. If you’re not sure, take a break before contacting them. Don’t make the call until you are in a calmer state of mind.
DO: Write down what you want to say beforehand. Being prepared in this way tends to present clarity on your part and lessen anxiety.
DON’T: Never take out your frustration on the individual you finally get to talk to whether it’s a receptionist or the counselor. While it’s perfectly understandable to feel frustrated when you’ve made repeated calls, you don’t know why there was a delay in getting back to you. Now that you’ve gotten ahold of the person you want to speak with, use this opportunity wisely.
REMEMBER: You are building social capital with every contact you make. How you present yourself in each conversation — even in these initial steps — is setting the groundwork for your future plans. People always remember when they are treated kindly and respectfully. You can’t control how other people behave, but you can always be professional from your end, even if you decide not to work with that person or agency.
Tip 3: Be Reliable
You have scheduled a meeting with your vocational rehabilitation (VR) counselor and a small business counselor. You’ve been trying to schedule this meeting for many weeks. Due to unforeseeable health issues, you need to reschedule the meeting. What do you do?
DO: As soon as you know you will not be able to make the meeting, let both parties know. Let them know by the means you know they are most likely to receive the message. If not sure, contact both by email and phone.
DO: If possible, try to reschedule the meeting during that conversation. Let them know you are committed to meeting and regret having to reschedule.
DON’T: Unless appropriate, don’t feel you need to give explicit details about the medical reasons for the cancellation unless it is relevant to your relationship with that individual and the issues at hand. In other words, they don’t need to know all the details, just the parts that are relevant based on the type or relationship you have and the purpose of the meeting.
REMEMBER: We all have unforeseen things happen when we may need to cancel meetings. The important part is to be courteous and timely in the cancellation process. Unfortunately, we hear too often that individuals simply do not show up at the meeting and call afterwards to apologize. This makes it much less likely these persons will want to work with you again.
Office of Disability Employment Policy (2012), Skills to Pay the Bills – Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace Success. Retrieved from http://www.dol.gov/odep/topics/youth/softskills/softskills.pdf
The JAN Team focuses on technology – new and old – and its possible applications in accommodating people with disabilities in the workplace.
Lyssa Rowan, New Media Assistant
One of the most talked-about trends with today’s technology is wearables – technological devices that you wear as part of your clothing or accessories. One example of these is Google Glass. JAN has had a chance to take a look at Glass to see how it could be used as a type of assistive technology (AT). While it’s a newer product and is in active development, we’ve seen apps that include voice recognition for real-time captioning of conversations, heads-up GPS navigation, timers, presentation assistance, and many more – there’s a lot of potential here. Look for more tidbits coming soon!
Melanie Whetzel, Senior Consultant, Cognitive/Neurological Team
Trying to keep up with all of the new apps is virtually impossible. There are apps for just about anything these days, and knowing which ones are worthwhile can be quite difficult. Listed below are a few apps that individuals with mental health impairments may find beneficial:
Bipolar Disorder Connect helps individuals with bipolar disorder to stay connected with a large growing community of people living with the same diagnosis. It’s the place to discuss treatments, start conversations, and learn from others.
CBT Calm helps assess stress levels, provides relaxation skills, and contains links to online resources for stress and anxiety.
DBT Diary Card and Skills Coach is a resource of self-help skills, reminders of therapy principles, and coaching tools for coping.
Operation Reach Out is a free intervention tool that helps people who are having suicidal thoughts to reassess their thinking and get help. Also helps those who are concerned about the safety of others.
WhatsMyM3 provides a reliable gauge to determine if users exhibit symptoms of various mental health impairments, then monitors moods and tracks mental health over time.
Linda Batiste, Principal Consultant
I recently read about a new technology for runners that also can help people with vision impairments navigate their environment. The product is from a company called Lechal and is basically a Bluetooth-enabled shoe or insole with haptic feedback vibrations that tell you which direction to go. For those of you who aren’t tech-savvy, haptic feedback just means that the device provides some kind of physical sensation to tell you something, like vibrating a certain way to tell you to turn right. According to an article in Boston Magazine, “the shoes and insoles—customers can choose between the two—rely on Bluetooth technology to connect to a person’s smartphone, and can map out the route to their destination, guiding them with the buzzing feelings on their feet along the way.”
The best thing about this product and the people who designed it is that they plan to help people with vision impairments get the shoes. One of the inventors told Boston Magazine that “for every pair of shoes that someone that isn’t visually impaired buys, another pair would be subsidized for a person that’s blind. Because that is the people who we started this for.”
This product might also help people with cognitive impairments who have difficulty getting around independently. Pretty cool!
Beth Loy, Principal Consultant
Lily Born, an 11-year old granddaughter, designed something called the Kangaroo Cup for her grandfather who has Parkinson’s Disease. Lily wanted to help her grandfather, who had trouble drinking from other cups, keep from spilling his drinks. The three-legs of the cup help stabilize it to make it harder to knock over. Individuals with Parkinson’s disease can have fine motor limitations such as tremors and a loss of strength in their hands. Check out the JAN Website for more accommodation ideas for individuals with Parkinson’s disease.
Lisa Dorinzi, Consultant, Motor/Mobility Team
I learned about Telorion Vox at the 2014 Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference (CSUN). Telorion Vox makes select smart phones accessible to low vision and blind users. The device comes with software that features voice recognition, screen reading and optical character recognition (OCR) capabilities, and talking GPS. There are built- in features such as a color detector and light sensors as well.
The software is integrated with the phone’s platform, but it also comes with accessible applications such as alarms, an agenda, weather information, and voice memos.
Along with the software, it comes with a removable keypad overlay that gives the user points of reference on the screen. The overlay also serves as a key guard, which could be beneficial for users with tremors.
Elisabeth Simpson, Senior Consultant, Sensory Team
AT in higher education is often a vital part of a student with a disability’s success in the classroom. Technology advancements have brought about AT equipment that is portable, user-friendly, and multifunctional. For students with a vision impairment, deciphering text on handouts or other print material distributed during class can be difficult. Professors and instructors may modify lecture slides as the class progresses, write notes on a whiteboard or Smart board, or reference a video as part of the instruction. Without AT, students with a vision impairment could be missing information necessary for class participation activities and exams.
Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology and video magnification are two types of AT that a student with a vision impairment may benefit from using in the classroom. OCR allows people with a vision impairment to scan printed text and receive a synthetic speech output or save it to a computer.
Optical Character Recognition (OCR) has three factors: scanning, recognition, and reading text. First a camera scans the printed document. Next, OCR software converts the image into recognizable characters/words. Then the user can store the information in electronic form to a computer or the OCR system itself. Video magnifiers vary in size, as well as magnification level, and use a camera to project a magnified image onto a computer monitor, television monitor, or other type of video monitor.
Some AT devices, such as the MagniLink S and the SmartView Graduate combine OCR and video magnification. With this, one AT can be used in a class for both reading printed material and for distance viewing. In addition to the camera scanning printed text, the student can tilt the camera head to the appropriate position for viewing a whiteboard or smart board. The images on the board are then displayed on the student’s laptop where color, contrast, and magnification settings can be adjusted.
It is important to note that each individual’s needs are different and what works for one student with a vision impairment may not work for another. Accommodations should be determined on a case-by-case basis. For more information about accommodations related to a vision impairment, check out JAN’s Website.
Sheryl Grossman, Consultant, Motor/Mobility Team
I have two technologies I’d like to highlight for Blog readers.
The first is an oldy but goody — the Logitech T-CD2-6F TrackMan Stationary Mouse. For those with very little arm/hand movement, this stationary trackball can be fixed to a specific location and allow for angled use of the selection part without changing the hand/finger position again.
A technology less often discussed — for those who have a private office and need a quick getaway to a private restroom, having a built-in, concealable commode that fits in with the office décor can make a huge difference for some individuals with disabilities. Check out the following Websites for more information: http://www.whitehallmfg.com/patient-care-units and http://www.metcraftindustries.com/Catalog/Hospitals/Swing-a-Way.pdf.
Kim Cordingly, Lead Consultant, Self-Employment Team
In working with individuals with disabilities interested in self-employment and small business development, where and how to market a new product frequently comes up in our conversations. This led me to locating a product Website called The Grommet. The site helps launch new and innovative products – some with very practical applications and others just for fun.
Recently, one product in particular caught my eye – the AirPhysics Hands-Free Hair Dryer. This hair dryer is not shaped in the traditional “gun” design, but has a more “ergo friendly” shape — sits straight up and down and can rest on a counter.
Jeffrey the inventor who is a hairstylist himself writes, “This hands-free hair dryer was created in order to prevent the painful wrist, shoulder, and neck injuries that have been attributed to traditional gun-type hair dryers. We originally created this hands-free method of drying for use in our own salon, and we’re thrilled to be able to offer it to all of you for use in your own home.”
I was talking to the hairstylist I use about fatigue and repetitive strain issues, and he said most professional stylists reach a point in their career when they’ll no longer be able to do their jobs due to the repeated motions of cutting, pulling, styling, grasping, and so on. He said for those stylists who are self-employed, your income is based on how many clients you are able to serve each day, so the impetus is to see as many clients as possible – hence, more repetition and risk of injury.
The potential applications for this dryer are numerous not only for those contemplating a career as a hair stylist who may need this type of accommodation, but also for those veterans in the field who may be able to extend their careers by reducing strain. This dryer can also serve as an accommodation for home use.
You can read more about The Grommet and view their interesting product selection on their Website.
Beth Loy – Principal Consultant
I recently read Laura L. Hayes’ article How to Stop Violence: Mentally ill people aren’t killers. Angry people are.
In this Slate.com article, Hayes discusses examples of individuals who were characterized as “mentally ill” by society, but who acted out of anger to commit crimes. These individuals, she argues, were controlled by that behavior and committed violent acts on someone else because of anger, not a mental health condition. Citing examples and statistics that show most violent crimes are committed by individuals who do not have a mental health condition, Hayes goes on to discuss research studies, media speculation, biological responses, gun regulation, and references in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Hayes argues that violent crimes committed by people with a mental health diagnosis get a lot of attention from the media, but are extremely rare. And, Hayes writes, anger fuels violence, not a mental health diagnosis.
Linda Batiste – Principal Consultant
After receiving several questions in a row about whether the ADA applies to foreign employment, I decided to read up on the subject. I found several publications on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Website, including:
Employee Rights When Working for Multinational Employers-Fact Sheet
The Equal Employment Opportunity Responsibilities of Multinational Employers – Fact Sheet
Enforcement Guidance on Application of Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act to Conduct Overseas and to Foreign Employers Discriminating in the United States
After reading these publications, I decided to write up a summary for the JAN Website to serve as a quick reference on this subject:
Consultants’ Corner: Does the ADA Apply to Foreign Employment?
I hope you find the summary useful!
Anne Hirsh – JAN Co-Director
I am reading any and all articles that I can find on the new regulations for Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act that went into effect on March 24, 2014. Employers are hungry for information on how to effectively implement self-identification of disability within their company as well as how to find qualified talent. They are also either creating or reviewing existing company reasonable accommodation policies including reasonable accommodation for onboarding. OFFCP continues to update its Website and FAQs.
This article on Job Application/Interview Stage Dos and Don’ts may be of interest.
Here is a JAN article on incorporating reasonable accommodation into a company onboarding procedure.
JAN’s archived Federal Contractor Webcast series may also be of interest
Sheryl Grossman – Consultant, Motor Team
Since recently returning from the Jewish Women Entrepreneurs Annual Conference, I’m really excited to pick up an often referenced book by Deborah Gallant entitled Shine Online. According to Ms. Gallant, “Shine Online is a 100-page book that answers every question you have about what to do…and in what order…,” regarding the Internet marketing of your business. For more tips on building a successful business, see her Website.
Daniel Tucker – Consultant, Cognitive/Neurological Team
I recently read an article in Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin entitled Shame-Focused Attitudes toward Mental Health Problems: The Role of Gender and Culture (2014) by Nan Zhang Hampton and Seneca E. Sharp. The purpose of this study was to determine whether there were differences based on gender and three ethnicities (Asian, Latino, and Caucasian American) concerning internal attitudes toward one’s own mental health impairment. Previous research suggested that women feel more shame than men, however, this study concluded there was no significant difference between genders across the three ethnicities. The results of the study did suggest there was a significant difference in attitudes across ethnicities, with Asians reporting the least amount of Internal Shame (IS), and Latinos reporting they would feel the most shame as compared to Asians and Caucasian Americans. The authors attributed these findings to cultural values, particularly Latino cultures tending to place high value on family honor and the stigmatization of mental illness being seen as a dishonor to the family.
In conclusion, the authors pointed out the implications for rehabilitation counselors. Due to the shame associated with mental health impairments among Latinos, they may be less likely to seek rehabilitation services. As a result, the authors suggest rehabilitation counselors should put more focus on encouraging Latinos to “get facts” by developing educational workshops and providing materials to service providers who would have contact with individuals from this population.
It is probable that these findings and suggestions would be applicable in the workplace as well. Given the diversity of today’s workforce, employers may benefit from looking at ways to effectively communicate disability awareness with the goal of reducing stigma and helping all employees to feel they can approach their employers about reasonable accommodations. Most accommodations, especially those for mental health impairments, cost nothing, while the process of replacing an otherwise qualified employee can be costly.
Hampton, N.Z., & Sharp, S.E. (2013). Shame-Focused Attitudes toward Mental Health Problems: The Role of Gender and Culture. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 57 (3), 170-181.
Melanie Whetzel – Senior Consultant, Cognitive/Neurological Team
I am reading The Essential Brain Injury Guide, a publication of the Brain Injury Association of America. With the number of questions and often complex requests for assistance we receive on the cognitive/neurological team in the area of brain injuries, it makes sense to expand my knowledge as much as possible. The guide contains eight chapters ranging from understanding the brain and brain injury, to understanding and treating functional impacts, to family, legal, and ethical issues. I will be reading and learning from this guide for quite some time to come.
Tracie DeFreitas – Lead Consultant, ADA Specialist
JAN Consultants must be familiar with many different workplace laws that impact the employment of people with all types of medical impairments. In particular, we offer in-depth technical assistance on the employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and use a number of enforcement guidance documents issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to explain employers’ obligations and employees’ rights under the statute. I read and share many of these documents daily and so can you by going to JAN’s AskJAN.org ADA Library under EEOC Guidances.
Another law JAN Consultants frequently receive questions about is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). FMLA often poses unique challenges for employers and so in-order to stay up-to-date on the latest trends and issues, I’ve been following a Blog entitled FMLA Insights. This informative Blog is authored by Jeff Nowak, who is co-chair of the labor and employment practice at Franczek Radelet where he represents employers in all aspects of employment law. The Blog addresses practical FMLA topics of interest to employers, highlights important court decisions, and provides updates on U.S. Department of Labor enforcement practices and initiatives – among many other FMLA and state family leave law issues. To learn more, you can go to the Website and sign-up to receive e-mail notices about new entries.
Kim Cordingly – Lead Consultant, Self-Employment Team
I’m currently reading the 2nd edition of Making Self-Employment Work for People with Disabilities (2014) by Cary Griffin, David Hammis, Beth Keeton and Molly Sullivan. The 1st edition has been a vital resource for JAN customers pursuing self-employment, so we’re thrilled to be referring individuals to this new edition.
I’ve also recently read the Office of Disability Employment Policy report on Self-Employment for People with Disabilities (2013). It discusses the experiences and outcomes of ODEP’s Start-Up USA grant projects, which sought to “…develop research-based policy and provide technical assistance to organizations geared toward achieving sustainable self-employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities.”
These are both indispensable reading for anyone interested in advancing self-employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
Also, I recently attended a conference on Women and Economic Security at the University of Michigan, which prompted me to read the following article related to women with disabilities and poverty:
Income Poverty and Material Hardship among U.S. Women with Disabilities (2009) by Susan Parish, Roderick Rose, and Megan Andrews – Social Service Review.
It includes data that suggest, “…women with disabilities experience such hardships as food insecurity, housing instability, inadequate health care, and loss of phone service at rates that are higher than those among nondisabled women. Rates of hardship remain higher even after adjusting for a host of individual characteristics, including marital status, age, race, and education.”
Much discussed at the conference was The Shriver Report – A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink (2014), which is next on my reading list.
Teresa Goddard – Senior Consultant, Sensory Team
I am planning a vacation, so am reading Walt Disney World with Disabilities by Stephen Ashley. It was published in 2008, but still has detailed information on many rides and attractions. Next on my list is PassPorter’s Open Mouse for Walt Disney World and the Disney Cruise Line: Easy Access Vacations for Travelers with Extra Challenges by Deb Wills and Debra Martin Koma.
Earlier this month while making vacation plans, I picked up a copy of Walt Disney World with Disabilities by Stephen Ashley. Although the information was a bit dated due to changes both in the attractions at Walt Disney World and in the park’s system for providing accommodations since 2008, I found the book’s detailed descriptions of rides, restaurants, and events such as fireworks to be helpful as my party and I decided which parks to visit and how to make the most of our FastPass ride reservations; this is a system that allows one to reserve a place in a faster moving line for a small number of attractions each day. What impressed me most about this book was the attention to details of interest to those with hidden impairments such as fragrance sensitivity. In fact, the information on lighting and on rides with fragrances helped two members of our party avoid potentially problematic situations and allowed them to plan ahead about how to self-accommodate in some areas of the park. I would like to see this resource updated to reflect current park conditions and practices. Ideally, I would also prefer to have an accessible digital copy. The book is very large — too large in fact to fit in the bag that I wanted to carry to the park, so I memorized all pertinent details in advance. Also, while the book was large the print was small.
If you are looking for information on navigating Walt Disney World as a person with a disability, this book is only one of many resources that you may wish to explore.
The Walt Disney World Website also contains a wealth of information.
Elisabeth Simpson – Senior Consultant, Mobility/Sensory Team
I recently read an article in Counseling Today magazine on the role of school counselors in transition planning titled Focusing on ability, not disability by Amy Cook, Laura Hayden and Felicia Wilczenski. The article discusses how school counselors can be advocates for students with intellectual disabilities (ID) as they transition into post-secondary education. They highlight programs where school students with ID work with educational coaches and can audit or enroll in college courses for credit. The article states, “… educational institutions have increased postsecondary educational options for individuals with ID, including offering greater access to higher education through concurrent enrollment between high schools and universities. Such programs provide students with ID the opportunity to attend college and enroll in college classes, participate in college-based activities (for example, clubs, intramural sports and extracurricular activities) and, in some cases, reside on campus.”
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month and this year’s theme is “Because We Are EQUAL to the Task.” While this month is a great time to raise awareness of the many valuable contributions of America’s workers with disabilities, it’s also an opportunity to reflect on the many changes over the years in how we think about disability and employment.
Job Accommodation Network (JAN) co-directors Anne Hirsh and Lou Orslene have a collective 40+ years of experience providing leadership at JAN. As the JAN Blog editor, I thought this was an opportune time to ask them to share their views on some of the issues at the heart of increasing employment opportunities for individuals with all types of disabilities.
In my initial question, I asked Anne and Lou to talk about the biggest changes they’ve observed during their tenure at JAN for people with disabilities in the employment arena.
Anne’s immediate reply was the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). She and I both began working at JAN prior to the passage of the ADA, so witnessed firsthand what a game changer this was. In those early days, some of the first questions regarding the employment provisions of the ADA were fielded by JAN consultants, with Anne coordinating our rapid increase in call volume. A related point she emphasized was the pathway created by the ADA for an individual to disclose one’s disability and subsequently request an accommodation. JAN’s work over the years has been at the forefront of facilitating this process.
On another front, Anne reflected on changes over the past 10-15 years when JAN received calls from parents asking about their children with disabilities transitioning from school to work. In recent years however, the tables have turned in that we’re now receiving an increasing number of calls from adult children contacting us about aging parents who acquire disabilities later in life and need to continue to work. Lou remarked this is a major shift in today’s workforce – many individuals are working longer while still being affected by the aging process. He suggested that employers should have proactive policies and training related to disability and employment because we are all likely in our lifetimes to be impacted by health issues in the context of work. Employers are starting to recognize the benefits of retaining aging employees who, despite an impairment, are capable of continuing to contribute to a business’ success.
Another change Anne remarked on was the increase in the number of students with disabilities in the higher education system. Lou added that particularly in his travel to conferences and training events, he encounters many more highly trained young adults with disabilities applying for positions or currently employed. This progress was fostered by the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). He remarked that while there is still much room for much improvement in educational parity and hiring rates, notable progress has been made. Programs like the Workforce Recruitment Program for College Students with Disabilities (WRP) and other internship programs are designed to enable talented and motivated college students and graduates to reach their goal of a productive career in their chosen field.
Likewise in the education arena, Lou pointed out that veterans with service-connected disabilities returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are taking advantage of the Post-911 GI Bill, which supports their educational goals and transition into civilian employment. This will mean more disabled veterans will be entering the workforce or choosing entrepreneurship, which will further diversify and strengthen our economy.
Lou noted a change as well in how we think about inclusion and diversity. It has become more commonplace for issues around disability to be incorporated into mainstream diversity programs and policies, whereas in the past, this was not the case. This shift means that expectations are changing as to what a diverse and inclusive workforce looks like. He added, “We can only expect this shift to increase in speed with the broadening of the coverage under the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) along with the new Section 503 regulations.”
My second question for Anne and Lou involved what they saw as the greatest contributions JAN has made in advancing employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities over the past 30 years.
For both Anne and Lou, two words exemplified what they saw as one of JAN’s most important contributions – confidence and competence. For individuals with disabilities, JAN consultants have educated customers on how to become better self-advocates. After thousands of calls to JAN — ultimately one conversation at a time — consultants have provided the information, resources, and guidance so that individuals can become more knowledgeable and empowered to move forward with their goals. Lou explained the same is true for the employers who have contacted JAN. Often HR professionals or managers encounter situations with applicants or employees where they are unsure what to do. They may have an ADA question, a particular accommodation situation, or both. JAN’s consulting services provide a free and confidential way for employers to discuss these situations and concerns. Employers therefore feel more confident and competent when hiring and accommodating qualified workers with disabilities; applicants and employees with disabilities feel more empowered to voice what they need to be successful on the job.
Anne highlighted a second unique JAN contribution — the role our consultants play in problem solving and sharing potential accommodations solutions with customers on a case by case basis. Lou pointed out this knowledge is then shared through JAN’s networking and training with other organizations – particularly service providers. He believes this outreach has expanded with JAN’s effective use of social networking tools and training platforms. Lou emphasized JAN’s strong commitment to support the work of other organizations thereby connecting people and organizations together in support of our collective goal of creating a more inclusive workforce.
My final question for Anne and Lou was on a more personal note – asking each to comment on what they feel is the best part of their jobs as co-directors at JAN.
Both Anne and Lou emphatically stated the best part of their job was making an impact on the lives of the customers JAN serves. As co-directors, both spend a great deal of time on the road and they each stated how blown away they are by the stories they are told about how someone’s life was affected by the guidance they received from JAN. These affirmations are received as well on an ongoing basis through emails, phone calls, and follow-up data. Anne attributes this success to the JAN staff, who she describes as “some of the most dedicated people she knows.” Both said they are constantly amazed at the day-to-day effort and passion the staff brings to their work.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Anne and Lou for sharing their thoughts for this Blog. The JAN staff appreciates their vision, dedication and leadership.
In what we hope will become a regular Blog feature, we’d like to share with you some of what the JAN consultants are currently reading. In our lives, we’re all so inundated with information – articles, books, reports, policy documents, and so on. Sometimes it’s helpful to hear what others find useful. In the field of disability, accommodation, and employment, our consultants read a wide variety of materials. We hope this will inspire you to check out what they find informative and inspiring.
Linda – Principal Consultant
If you work and also care for a family member who has a disability, you may wonder whether your employer has to provide you with the accommodations you need so you can care for your family member. JAN provides information about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. The ADA does not require employers to provide accommodations for employees who have family members with disabilities, but it does prohibit discrimination on the basis of such associations. This means, for example, if your employer grants schedule modifications to other employees for child care, then it would probably be discriminatory not to grant you a schedule modification so you can care for a family member with a disability. This is referred to as the “Association Provision” of the ADA.
I find the following document particularly helpful on this topic and refer JAN’s customers to it:
Also, there may be other laws that provide you with rights related to caring for a family member with a disability. As a starting point, see:
If you would like to share your experience with working and caring for a family member with a disability, feel free to do so here.
Daniel – Consultant on the Cognitive/Neurological Team
I recently read an article published in the journal Behavior Research and Therapy entitled “Separating Hoarding from OCD.” I discovered this article as part of my research for a piece I’m writing for JAN about hoarding in the workplace. The article does a great job of explaining the current confusion over what excessive hoarding is exactly, and the reasons why it should not be lumped in with OCD. Here are some of the differences between hoarding and OCD identified in the article:
- There are more than five times as many excessive hoarders as individuals with OCD.
- Not everyone with OCD engages in excessive hoarding. It is estimated that between 11% and 33% of individuals with OCD are also excessive hoarders.
- Individuals with OCD often have “insight” into their condition, recognizing that their behavior is irrational and problematic while excessive hoarders usually do not.
- Excessive hoarding is unresponsive to traditional cognitive behavioral therapy and medications that are often effective in the treatment of OCD.
For more information about this article see:
Beth – Principal Consultant
I recently read Michael Hingson’s Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero.
This New York Times best-seller by Michael Hingson tells the true story of how he and his guide dog Roselle survived 9/11. Blind since birth, Michael is an inspirational speaker who lost Roselle in 2011, but shares his fond memories with readers. The book tells the engaging story of how Roselle saved the lives of Michael and many others who were in the World Trade Center on that fateful day.
Look here for more information on Michael Hingson and his book.
Teresa – Senior Consultant on the Sensory Team
May is Better Speech and Hearing Month so in preparation, I’m re-reading an old favorite by West Virginia University’s own Ken St. Louis entitled Living with Stuttering: Stories, Basics, Resources, and Hope. The book discusses, “the current explanations and treatments for stuttering while recognizing that the different ways in which stutterers are affected go deeper than their struggles with fluency; the effects are as diverse as the vast stuttering population itself.”
For more information see:
Anne – Co-Director
Maybe it’s because my youngest is graduating from high school this month and will be off to college soon, but I’ve been reading a good bit about the aging workforce. One very interesting piece was recently released by ODEP’s NTAR Leadership Center entitled The Aging Workforce: The Role of Medical Professionals in Helping Older Workers and Workers with Disabilities to Stay at Work or Return to Work and Remain Employed by Maria Heidkamp and Jennifer Christain, MD, MPH. The report was the outgrowth of a one-day roundtable event in 2012 — convened to explore the relationship among, “medical professionals, employers, and the public workforce and vocational rehabilitation systems in terms of their current and desired roles in preventing work disability, with ‘disability’ in this context defined as the absence from work due to a medical condition.”
JAN has a couple of documents on the Website that may be of interest to those interested in this topic as well.
Tracie – Lead Consultant
JAN receives many inquiries from employers and employees who have questions related to the ADA and performance and conduct standards. In some cases, an individual’s disability may contribute to performance or conduct issues. JAN offers information to help people understand how the ADA applies to these sometimes complicated employment situations. My go-to resource on the topic is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s guidance on this topic — The Americans with Disabilities Act: Applying Performance and Conduct Standards to Employees with Disabilities.
Melanie – Senior Consultant on the Cognitive/Neurological Team
I’ve been working on gathering and assimilating information and accommodation ideas on executive functioning for an upcoming JAN Webcast. Executive functioning involves abilities such as planning, organizing, managing time, paying attention, and remembering details. One book I’ve been reading that has been particularly helpful is Dyslexia in the Workplace by Diana Bartlett and Sylvia Moody.
Kim – Lead Consultant on the Self-Employment Team
I receive a number of inquiries from individuals with disabilities wanting to start craft, art, or handmade product related businesses. These skillfully produced creative items can include quilts, pottery, stained glass, photography, collage, jewelry, wind chimes, woodworking, and so on. In my research, I came across a book by Kari Chapin called The Handmade Marketplace – How to Sell Your Crafts Locally, Globally, and Online. JAN’s customers frequently have questions about how to successfully market their products and use social media effectively. This book includes very useful information on both of these topics – presenting it in a very informative and accessible way.