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ENews: Volume 13, Issue 4, Fourth Quarter, 2015

The JAN E-News is a quarterly online newsletter. Its purpose is to keep subscribers informed about low-cost and innovative accommodation approaches; the latest trends in assistive technologies; announcements of upcoming JAN presentations, media events, trainings, and Webcasts; and legislative and policy updates promoting the employment success of people with disabilities.

An e-mail announcement is sent to an opt-in list when a new issue is available. Please use the links at the end of this document to subscribe or unsubscribe.


  1. Mother May I? Must I? Should I?
  2. Joint Replacements: Are They Covered?
  3. Disability Disclosure and Employment
  4. Accommodating an Aging Workforce
  5. CDE Toolkits Make it Easy to Promote Disability Awareness Year-Round
  6. JAN Blog Growing
  7. JAN Releases New Resources
  8. E-vents
  9. JAN Exhibit and Training Schedule
  10. Subscribe to JAN Newsletter

1 - Mother May I? Must I? Should I?

You notice an employee seems disheveled and his job performance isn’t up to par. You’ve heard rumors that he has a drinking problem. He’s been a good employee and you’d like to help him. You decide the best approach might be to just ask him if he has alcoholism and whether he needs an accommodation. Is that the best approach?

In the past, an employee disclosed that she as multiple sclerosis (MS) and she asked for accommodations related to parking because of muscle weakness and fatigue. Recently she’s been making typing errors and has missed a couple of work deadlines. She hasn’t said anything to you, but you’re concerned that her MS is affecting her job performance. You want to talk with her about it and ask her if there are accommodations that might help. Should you? Does it matter that you’re a federal contractor?

Here at the Job Accommodation Network, we frequently get questions from employers about whether they may, must, or should ask employees if they need reasonable accommodations. Asking employees if they need an accommodation is classified as a medical inquiry under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and therefore governed by the ADA’s rules regarding medical inquiries and examinations. These rules can be hard to figure out sometimes, but fortunately in this case there is written guidance to answer these questions.  

The following questions and answers are from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in a document called Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship under the ADA.

Applying this guidance to the scenarios posed in the beginning of this article, I’d say in the first one there may not be enough information for the employer to show it has a reasonable belief that the employee needs an accommodation because of a disability because all the employer has is a rumor about drinking problems.

In the second scenario the employer probably can show a reasonable belief that the employee’s disability is creating a possible need for accommodation and therefore the employer can probably ask the employee whether she needs an accommodation.

That’s the “may,” what about the “must”?

However, an employer should initiate the reasonable accommodation interactive process without being asked if the employer: (1) knows that the employee has a disability, (2) knows, or has reason to know, that the employee is experiencing workplace problems because of the disability, and (3) knows, or has reason to know, that the disability prevents the employee from requesting a reasonable accommodation. If the individual with a disability states that s/he does not need a reasonable accommodation, the employer will have fulfilled its obligation.

Applying this guidance to our scenarios, it doesn’t look like the employer in either situation must ask if an accommodation is needed. But what about the question about federal contractors?

Federal contractors have a greater duty to ask if an employee needs an accommodation under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act. The following is from section 503 regulations:

So in the second scenario, a federal contractor probably has a duty to ask whether the employee’s performance problems are related to her MS and if so, whether she needs an accommodation.

That’s the “may” and the “must,” but what about the “should”?

Should you ask an employee whether an accommodation is needed when you don’t have a legal obligation to do so? There’s nothing wrong with asking an employee whether he or she needs an accommodation when you’re sure you meet the reasonable belief standard, but perhaps an easier approach is to just ask “Is there anything we can do to help you overcome the problems you’re having?” With this approach, you don’t mention disability or accommodation so you don’t have to worry about the ADA’s medical inquiry rules, but at the same time you let the employee know that you would like to help. If it turns out the employee has a disability and needs an accommodation, you have opened the door for the employee to disclose.

If you need more information on this topic or any other accommodation issue, contact us at JAN!

- Linda Carter Batiste, J.D., Principal Consultant

2 - Joint Replacements: Are They Covered?

Joint replacement surgery may be a solution for someone who has dealt with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis for a long time, has an injury where replacement is the best option, or has other conditions where non-surgical management has not been successful.  Although nearly every joint in the body can be replaced, most replacement surgeries involve the hip or knee (Kraay, 2013). Candidates for joint replacement surgery often have severe joint pain, stiffness, limping, muscle weakness, limitation of motion, and swelling before and after surgery (Cleveland Clinic Foundation, 2009).

The ADA does not indicate whether temporary impairments are covered or excluded. However, it has been indicated that the duration of an impairment is not a key factor in determining whether someone meets the definition of disability under the ADA. In other words, the question is, “Is the person substantially limited in a major life activity?” Most individuals who have joint replacements will likely be substantially limited, at least temporarily, in walking, lifting, standing, and performing manual tasks. These are major life activities specifically mentioned in the ADA, the ADA Amendments Act, and their corresponding regulations. So, to be on the safe side, employers might not want to rule out the possibility that short-term impairments resulting in joint replacements might now be covered by the ADA.

Keep in mind that even if impairments resulting in a hip or knee replacement end up being covered, most employers already accommodate people with such impairments so the actual accommodations will not be that burdensome. And, once the joint replacement area heals, the employee will likely no longer need accommodations so in most cases we are talking about minor, short term accommodations such as a parking space, stand/lean stool, leg rest, mobility aid, chair, ramp, leave time, and flexible scheduling.

The bottom line is that the impact of the duration of an impairment on the definition of disability is an unsettled issue. Different legal experts have different opinions, and we hope to have clarification in the future. For now, if employers want to err on the side of caution, they should not rule out coverage based on how long an impairment lasts, and this means that accommodations should be considered for individuals who have joint replacement surgery.


- Beth Loy, Ph.D., Principal Consultant

3 - Disability Disclosure and Employment

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) and is a time when many employers engage in activities that raise awareness about disability and employment issues. NDEAM brings disability to the forefront for employers that want to implement strategies to advance their disability inclusion initiatives. Disability inclusion programs are bolstered by actively seeking and hiring individuals with disabilities, but many employers are often unaware that an individual has a disability until he or she decides to disclose disability-related information at some point during the employment process. In general, applicants and employees are not required to disclose their disabilities (with limited exceptions), but Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act requires covered federal contractor employers to invite applicants and employees to voluntarily self-identify as an individual with a disability. While JAN has always received questions related to disability disclosure and employment, this new Section 503 requirement has prompted an increase in inquiries related to this topic.

Making the decision to share disability-related information can be overwhelming and there is no right or wrong approach – it’s personal. Individuals disclose disability-related information for a variety of reasons, including (but not limited to): to inform an employer of the existence of a medical impairment; to be included as part of a disability-related initiative or program; to request reasonable accommodation during the hiring process, to perform job functions, or to receive a benefit of employment; or to explain an unusual circumstance. Disability disclosure can occur during any stage of the employment process, including pre-employment, post-offer, and while employed – whether it be within days, months, or years of being hired.

For some individuals, the Voluntary Self-Identification of Disability form used by employers to meet the requirements of Section 503 can lead to apprehension over disability disclosure. Completing the form is voluntary, but individuals are often concerned about the consequences of either not completing it, or about disclosing their disability – even knowing the affirmative action impetus. Rest assured that the purpose of the form is to request disability-related information to help employers measure their progress in hiring and employing individuals with disabilities – to increase the number of individuals with disabilities who are hired. Any information that is disclosed cannot be used against the individual in any way and must be kept confidential. Detailed information is not necessary; it’s simply a matter of checking a box that states the individual either does or does not have a disability, or does not wish to answer.

JAN has published a new document that addresses some of the most frequently asked questions about disability disclosure and employment. The information is relevant to both individuals with disabilities and employers. See Disability Disclosure and Employment. Additional information and resources related to disability disclosure can be found at AskJAN.org in the A-Z section, under the topic of Disclosure.

If you are looking for information on affirmative action, see JAN's Consultants' Corner, Volume 05, Issue 05: Affirmative Action and Disability: What Can Employers Ask? Also, see OFCCP's Disability Inclusion Starts with You for a public service announcement-style video encouraging applicants and employees with disabilities to voluntarily self-identify.

- Tracie DeFreitas, M.S., Lead Consultant, ADA Specialist

4 - Accommodating an Aging Workforce

In 2013, 44.7 million Americans were aged 65 or older.  They represented 14.1% of the U.S. population, about one in every seven Americans. By 2060, there will be about 98 million older persons, more than twice their number in 2013 (U.S. Administration on Aging, n.d.).

Older workers remain a vital segment of today’s workforce. Some individuals have retired from one form of work and chosen to switch careers or work part-time to earn extra money and maintain insurance benefits, keep active, learn new skills, or socialize. With the aging of the baby boom generation, the average age for workers will increase, and the likelihood that more employees will be managing a disability increases.

Age-related limitations can involve a wide range of conditions, including depression and anxiety, addiction, repetitive strain, and other cognitive, sensory, and physical limitations. Due to these limitations, older workers may need accommodations related to activities of daily living, the psychological aspects of aging, and job performance. Limitations may be from aging, returning to work after an injury, the occurrence of a primary disability, the exacerbation of a long-term impairment, and/or prevention of a secondary impairment. Many older workers, however, will continue to work at full production with no limitations and no need for accommodations.

Keep in mind that aging, by itself, is not an impairment, but a person who has a medical condition (such as hearing loss, osteoporosis, or arthritis) often associated with age has an impairment on the basis of the medical condition. If that impairment substantially limits a major life activity, the person may be entitled to accommodations under the ADA.  

The following are examples of some of the accommodations that might be useful for age-related limitations. For more information on aging employees, see JAN’s A to Z: Aging.


For aging employees with cognitive-related impairments, limitations may affect the ability to remember, concentrate, stay organized, manage time, complete tasks, and manage stress and emotions.


When considering accommodations for aging employees with motor related impairments, limitations may have an impact on gross motor functions, fine motor functions, or a combination of both. For an older worker with a limitation that impacts a gross motor function, such as lifting people or patients, there are a variety of accommodations that could be implemented. Products such as patient lifts or transfer sheets could enable a nurse or healthcare worker to lift a patient independently or lifting could be done with the assistance of others or as a team. Compact material handling devices can assist someone who has difficulty lifting or transporting items of various sizes.

Carrying heavy items is another type of job task that an older employee with gross motor limitations may have difficulty performing.  This could be a problem with carrying heavy items either on the ground or upstairs.  Of course, one accommodation that many people might have available is the use of a dolly or hand truck or a cart.  Another option could be to use a motorized cart. If the job requires the employee to carry heavy items upstairs, a stair-climbing hand truck could be used. 

Accommodations related to workplace accessibility may need to be considered for aging employees with gross motor limitations. For example, climbing up a set of stairs could be difficult for someone with a hip impairment. Some employers express concerns that accessibility-related accommodations require them to remodel a whole building.  However, there are some lower-cost accommodations, such as relocating a work station, which could be implemented as alternatives to a remodel.  Another option that would be less expensive than putting in an elevator would be a stair lift.

Aging employees working in healthcare settings may have gross motor impairments that prohibit them from pushing patients who are in a hospital bed or wheelchair. And facility or maintenance workers might have to push heavy pieces of equipment or carts from one worksite to another. There are a variety of motorized pushing or tugging devices for these situations, both for moving people and objects, which could be explored as accommodations.

Individuals that have a sitting restriction or have a sitting and standing restriction could use an adjustable work station, modifying their existing workstation, or have an ergonomic evaluation completed. For those working in manufacturing environments or in a retail environment and have trouble standing, a stand/lean stool could be an option.  These stools allow a person to alternate between a leaning position and a sitting position and can be adjusted so that the employee can access an assembly station or retail counter.

Some aging employees experience fine motor limitations resulting from conditions such as carpal tunnel disorder or arthritis, and have difficulty performing tasks like keyboarding or using a mouse. Alternative input devices could be used to enable an employee to access information on a computer. Speech recognition software could also be a possible accommodation solution for those who are unable to use a keyboard or mouse. Writing aids, grip aids, typing/keyboard aids, or hands-free telephones are other options to explore. Employees working in manufacturing environments who have fine motor limitations might benefit from using vacuum pickup tools, extra grip gloves, anti-vibration gloves, or anti-vibration tool wraps.


Sensory impairments are very common among aging employees.  In fact, the names of two common conditions — presbyopia, a type of vision loss in which one gradually develops difficulty focusing on nearby objects, and presbycusis, a type of hearing impairment in which one gradually develops a reduced sense of hearing in both ears — both come from the Greek word “presbys” (πρέσβυς), which can be translated as “old man.”  So, accommodations have been around for a long time.

Additionally, according to the NIH, “Approximately one in three people in the United States between the ages of 65 and 74 has hearing loss, and nearly half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing.”  Additionally, anyone who is 35 or older is at risk for presbyopia, according to the NIH. 

JAN’s Sensory Team also takes questions on the senses of smell and taste, which can become less sensitive as a natural part of the aging process or as a result of conditions such as cancer or stoke or because of medication side effects.

Many workers seek out assistive technology such as hearing aids and computer glasses on their own and never come to the attention of their employer.  Fortunately, many accommodation options exist for individuals whose sensory limitations impact them at work.  For this article, three of the most common sensory-related issues that we get questions about at JAN will be touched on: mobility, communication, and computer use.

The word “mobility” is often associated with conditions that impair movement, such as spinal cord injury, stroke, and arthritis.  However, it can also be used in connection with conditions that impair vision.  In fact, there is a special name for professionals who train people with visual disabilities in how to get around safely and independently.  These professionals are called “orientation and mobility specialists.”  Many people who acquire vision loss early in life or following a sudden-onset medical event such as a stroke receive referrals for orientation and mobility training and may be more likely to receive formal training in how to use a white cane. They are also more likely to be referred to organizations that match individuals who are blind or have low vision with service animals.  In contrast, those who experience gradual vision loss may learn a few strategies and tips from professionals but also rely on their own experiences to come up with ways of getting around that work best for them.  

Some simple steps that employers can take to make it easier for all workers to get around include providing small-group or individual tours of a facility at the time of employee orientation and after workplace changes such as moves or renovations; providing adequate lighting in entryways, parking areas, hallways, restrooms and common areas; and providing orientation tools such as maps and printed directions in a format that employees are able to see and use easily. 

Some facilities have also found that use of high-contrast wallpaper borders to be useful in marking important pathways.  A chair rail that is painted in a contrasting color can add a tactile element that is useful for those who find it helpful to touch a wall while navigating a hallway.  If permanent changes to a wall are problematic, vinyl decals may be a useful alternative.  Additionally, using signs with large high-contrast print and tactile letters and symbols or even Braille may help individuals to navigate independently and avoid embarrassing mix-ups in common areas and restrooms.  There are also special light switches and programmable doorbells that can be used to give an auditory cue about the room that someone has entered or is about to enter.

Employees who are hard of hearing may benefit from accommodations to enhance communication, for example over the telephone or during meetings and trainings. Two of the most common strategies for improving telephone-related communication are amplification and captioned calls.  If an employee already uses a hearing aid, it may also be possible to use specialized equipment such as a hearing aid-compatible headset or Bluetooth technology to connect the sound from a phone to the hearing aid.  The treating audiologist may be able to make target recommendations about what technology would work best with a particular person’s hearing aids.

For those who do not have hearing aids or who prefer to take them out when using the phone, one option is considering whether an amplifier that the employee can adjust would meet the employee’s needs.  Most people with hearing loss can hear some types of sounds or frequencies better than others.  No telephone amplifier is as customizable or adjustable as a hearing aid fitted by a qualified audiologist.  However, one example of a telephone amplifier with easily adjustable volume across multiple frequencies is the Speech  Adjust-a-Tone from Hearsay. This particular device has six sliders, which can be used to adjust the volume of sounds ranging from bass, mid, to treble. Some individuals with hearing aids can also benefit from this product since it can be used with a neck loop. It can also be used with certain types of headsets as well as with a bone-conducting transducer. Because there are multiple models of this product, it may be helpful to consult the manufacturer or a vendor to see which might work best in your setting.

The principles of amplification and captioning can also be used to make meetings and trainings more accessible. There are many types of assistive listening devices that may be helpful in amplifying the voice of the main speaker. Some models also work with hearing aids to reduce the impact of background noise.  The type of captioning most commonly provided in meetings and trainings is Communication Access Realtime Translation or CART services.   Of course, for individuals who are deaf and fluent in American Sign Language (ASL), interpreter services may be a more appropriate option.  Check with the individual to be sure what accommodations work well for them.

Employees who are hard of hearing may benefit from accommodations related to computer use. These days, many operating systems have a number of built-in accessibility features designed to make their devices easier for all to use. In many cases, a simple adjustment in a settings menu is all it takes to turn on basic screen reading or improve the contrast of print on the screen. To find out about the accessibility features in a particular computer operating system, you can explore settings on your own or with the help of an IT professional or go to the manufacturer’s website and search for information on accessibility.

In some cases, efficient use of built-in accessibility features may make all the difference.  In other cases, assistive technology such as screen magnification software or office equipment such as larger monitors and cubicle shields to block glare from overhead lighting may provide additional benefits, improving productivity while reducing eyestrain. For further information on accommodation ideas for individuals with low vision who are having difficulty using a computer, visit http://askjan.org/soar/vision/readcomp.html. JAN also has information on ideas for computer access for employees with no vision at http://askjan.org/soar/vision/readcompb.html

Sometimes, it may be helpful to mix and match to meet a particular employee’s needs.   Some individuals may choose to learn Braille as their vision loss progresses.  Other may simply find it more efficient and less visually taxing to listen to the computer for some tasks using screen reading software.

There are many potential accommodation solutions that aging employees with impairments could benefit from in the workplace. Each situation should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine options that work for both the employer and employee, and there may be some trial and error before an effective solution is found. Hopefully the types of limitations and possible accommodations discussed in this article will give you an idea of what is possible!


- Melanie Whetzel, M.A., Lead Consultant, Cognitive / Neurological Team

- Elisabeth Simpson, M.S., Lead Consultant, Motor Team

- Teresa Goddard, M.S., Team Leader Sensory Team

5 - CDE Toolkits Make it Easy to Promote Disability Awareness Year-Round

National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is coming to a close, but initiatives to raise awareness about disability employment issues don’t have to end with the month of October. A commitment to maintain an inclusive workplace can be demonstrated year-round and there are many resources to make it easy. For example, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) offers an NDEAM Website that shares ideas for activities to be conducted by employers and employers to raise awareness. While the information is available to promote NDEAM, the ideas and activities can certainly be implemented any time throughout the year.

The Campaign for Disability Employment (CDE) is another resource that employers should take advantage of for disability employment information. The CDE offers outreach toolkits that make it easy to advance disability employment initiatives to hire, employ, and promote qualified individuals with disabilities. Why not consider using the complete series of outreach toolkits to offer quarterly training on disability employment issues? Four outreach toolkits are available; each toolkit includes messaging and materials that support the overall What Can YOU Do? theme in different ways. Businesses can customize quarterly disability awareness training around the various toolkits. By offering the training quarterly, a greater number of employees, including supervisors and managers, will have the opportunity to participate.

The CDE toolkits include logos, posters, web and print ads, ready-to-publish articles, and high quality video Public Service Announcements (PSAs) with accompanying discussion guides. There are three PSAs; “Who I Am,” “Because,” and the award-winning, “I Can.” All feature people with disabilities with diverse skills and abilities. The PSAs and discussion guides can be used to facilitate staff training and education efforts around the issues of disability employment and workforce diversity. Each toolkit also offers materials in Spanish, including the PSAs. Access the CDE’s toolkits and start building your year-round disability awareness initiative today!

- Tracie DeFreitas, MS, Lead Consultant, ADA Specialist

6 - JAN Blog Growing

The Ask JAN Blog provides an opportunity for you to share your workplace accommodation solutions with others. JAN receives over 40,000 contacts per year – conversations with all of you that help us better understand what’s working effectively in your workplaces. We have a great deal to learn from one another. We encourage you to share your experiences and interact with the JAN staff. Your accommodation success stories can benefit many others around the nation. Enjoy the new postings and additional Spanish selections:

Become a part of the new JAN blogging community!

7 - JAN Releases New Resources

8 - E-vents

9 - JAN Exhibit and Training Schedule

Events of particular interest: Get the most up-to-date and comprehensive training on employing people with disabilities. To view the complete JAN travel schedule go to JAN-on-the-Road.

10 - Subscribe to JAN Newsletter

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This document was developed by the Job Accommodation Network, funded by a cooperative agreement from the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy (DOL079RP20426). The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the U.S. Department of Labor. Nor does mention of tradenames, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Department of Labor.


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