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ENews: Volume 14, Issue 4, Fourth Quarter, 2016

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. JAN and CAP: Two Effective Programs… Even Better Together
  2. Running Interference: Football or ADA?
  3. Performance Management and Employees with Disabilities
  4. What is PseudoBalbar Affect?
  5. Spasmodic Dysphonia: Accommodations for the Workplace
  6. National Disability Employment Awareness Month 2016: #InclusionWorks
  7. JAN Blog Growing
  8. JAN Releases New Resources
  9. E-vents
  10. JAN Exhibit and Training Schedule
  11. Subscribe to JAN Newsletter

1 - JAN and CAP: Two Effective Programs… Even Better Together

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) and Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP) are two programs steeped in history – each having removed barriers for hundreds of thousands of individuals with disabilities over the past 25 years. 

JAN is a free service, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Policy, that provides technical assistance on job accommodations. JAN’s services are available to not only private and federal employers seeking accommodation information, but also educational professionals, individuals with disabilities, and anyone else interested in workplace accommodations. Each contact to JAN remains confidential.

For over three decades JAN’s service has been a vital resource for hiring and retaining people with disabilities. In a typical day, JAN will field over 100 questions from managers and employees, some of which are from federal agencies. Wanita, a supervisor with a large federal agency, recently contacted JAN to get ideas on job accommodations for a systems operator with depression. She was transferred to a mental health accommodation specialist to whom she explained that because of a recent change in medication, the employee was having a difficult time concentrating, especially during meetings.

JAN discussed several possible solutions to improve the employee’s productivity:

JAN provided a list of cueing/memory aids for Wanita to investigate further and recommended she contact CAP to further explore assistive technology solutions. 

CAP is a centrally funded Department of Defense (DoD) program that provides free assistive technology and related support service to DoD personnel and federal employees at 69 partner agencies. CAP’s mission is to provide assistive technology and accommodations to support federal employees with disabilities and wounded, ill and injured Service members throughout the Federal Government in accessing information and communication technology. Since CAP’s inception in 1990, CAP has provided over 160,000 accommodations – all at no cost to employing partner agencies. 

Since Wanita worked at a CAP partner agency and her subordinate was a federal employee with a disability in need of an electronic device as cueing/memory aid, CAP was the logical place to turn. CAP provided the aid at no cost and went one step further.

As a result of a comprehensive needs assessment conducted by CAP specialists, noise canceling headphones to help create a quieter work environment were also provided. A needs assessment is an exchange of information that allows CAP to identify potential accommodations. CAP provides needs assessments in-person, over the phone or through a video teleconference. 

An example like Wanita and her employee demonstrates how JAN and CAP can work together to ensure that federal employees with disabilities have equal access to information and communication technology in the workplace through best practices in management and assistive technology.

To learn more about CAP, visit www.cap.mil.

- Stephen M. King, Former CAP Director, and Beth Loy, Ph.D., Principal Consultant

2 - Running Interference: Football or ADA?

Running interference is typically a term used in football and is sometimes a good thing to do and sometimes a bad thing to do. It can mean legally helping a team member by blocking potential tacklers or illegally hindering an opponent from catching a pass. So what in the world does this have to do with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

Well, turns out the same term has applications under the ADA. In recently released enforcement guidance, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provided information about retaliation under the ADA. According to this guidance, retaliation is the most frequently alleged basis of discrimination, so preventing it should be a major concern for employers. Retaliation can occur easily, especially if a supervisor or manager does not understand what it is. For example, an employee with a disability asks her supervisor if she can telework as an accommodation. Her supervisor tells her she had better not push for telework or she will likely be demoted. This may meet the definition of illegal retaliation.

Retaliation occurs when an employer punishes an employee who has engaged, or may engage, in protected activity under federal equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws. Generally, protected activity means either participating in an EEO process (e.g., requesting an accommodation, filing a complaint, testifying at a hearing) or opposing illegal conduct under EEO laws (e.g., standing up for a coworker who is being discriminated against). In other words, employers are not allowed to punish employees who assert their own rights. This is analogous to illegal pass interference in football – an employer tries to stop an employee from exercising federal rights.  And, employers are not allowed to punish employees who run interference for coworkers whose rights are potentially being violated, assuming the interference is done appropriately. This is analogous to a team member legally blocking potential tacklers in football – the employee is trying to help out a coworker who is exercising his rights.

Also included in the new EEOC guidance is information about a provision under the ADA specifically called the Interference Provision. This provision is very similar to retaliation, but is much broader and covers employer conduct that does not meet the standard required for retaliation. It basically says that an employer cannot interfere with ADA rights by doing anything “reasonably likely to interfere with the exercise or enjoyment of ADA rights.”

Some examples of interference provided in the EEOC guidance include:

So what can employers do to help reduce the chances of being hit with a penalty for illegal interference? Just like in football, employers must prepare, train, practice, and provide effective coaching. In the new guidance, the EEOC shares its recommendations for promising practices, including:

So take a moment to review the new EEOC guidance and get a game plan to help you avoid penalties!

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

3 - Performance Management and Employees with Disabilities

Let’s be honest, managing performance issues is not on the top of anyone’s “favorite things to do at work” list. Whether you’re the person responsible for evaluating employee performance, or the one on the receiving end of a less than stellar evaluation, performance reviews can be uncomfortable for all parties involved. Regardless, performance management is necessary at work. At JAN, we frequently hear from employers who particularly struggle with figuring out how to manage performance issues when employees with disabilities are involved. There is sometimes a lack of confidence regarding how to approach performance situations involving employees with disabilities, out of concern for taking the wrong action and violating the ADA. However, holding all employees accountable for their performance and treating employees fairly and consistently leads to opportunities for growth and advancement in the workplace for everyone, which ultimately fulfills the ADA’s purpose of furthering equal employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

Establishing and applying performance standards uniformly allows employers to consistently evaluate employees and readily identify and respond to performance issues. Performance issues can occur for many reasons and can sometimes develop due to disability-related limitations, but this may not be known prior to addressing performance issues. When it becomes known that disability-related limitations are contributing to poor performance, reasonable accommodation may enable employees with disabilities to meet performance standards. Reasonable accommodation should help employees with disabilities meet existing performance requirements, not excuse them from accountability. The EEOC makes it clear that the ADA does not obligate employers to disregard or change performance requirements as reasonable accommodation. Detailed information about applying performance and conduct standards to employees with disabilities can be found in EEOC’s enforcement guidance on Applying Performance and Conduct Standards to Employees with Disabilities.

Accurate performance evaluations can lead to performance improvement when employees recognize a disability-related connection and choose to disclose a disability and/or request reasonable accommodation in response to poor performance evaluation. When job performance issues become apparent, action should be taken to address issues in a timely manner. Weeks or months should not pass before issues are addressed. Delayed performance management can lead to worsening performance and potential ADA claims when employees believe that adverse employment decisions do not align with their understanding of performance expectations and that decisions were made for perceived discriminatory reasons.

Employees are motivated to work hard when it is known that the quality and quantity of their work matters and that job performance is measured against standards that are applied uniformly and consistently. The following practices may be useful when applying standards and managing employee performance in the workplace:

Assuming performance issues are in-fact disability-related, anticipate performance improvement after implementing effective accommodations. Remember, the need for accommodation can be on-going and so it may be necessary to check-in with employees to see that accommodations are working effectively and that performance requirements are being met. It may also be necessary to inform HR or management staff, those on a need-to-know basis, about accommodations that have been implemented. For example, if an attendance policy is modified and a flexible schedule applied, this is something that management may need to be aware of so an employee who is being accommodated is not penalized for late arrivals.

What if performance does not improve with accommodation? Sometimes this happens. Was a good faith effort made to support better performance with accommodation? Are there alternative accommodation solutions to consider? Have you contacted JAN for assistance? Be sure to have exhausted accommodation solutions, including the possibility of reassignment to a vacant position. Sometimes, an alternative position will offer the greatest opportunity for success.

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

4 - What is PseudoBalbar Affect?

PseudoBulbar Affect (PBA) is a neurological condition that causes uncontrollable outbursts of crying or laughing. If you break the term down literally, “pseudo” means false, “bulbar” refers to the brainstem, and “affect” describes how the body shows mood or emotion. PBA can occur when certain neurologic diseases or brain injuries damage the areas in the brain that control normal expression of emotion. This damage can disrupt brain signaling, causing a “short circuit” and triggering involuntary episodes of crying or laughing. Conditions that can cause PBA include traumatic as well as acquired brain injuries (such as a stroke), Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).  PBA is not a new condition. It was first described in medical literature over 130 years ago by Charles Darwin.

About PBA:

PBA episodes can be described in two key ways: inappropriate and exaggerated.

  1. Inappropriate: One characteristic of PBA episodes is that the crying or laughing episodes are inappropriate to the situation in which they occur. Sometimes the spontaneous outbreak of crying or laughing does not mirror the way a person is actually feeling. 
  2. Exaggerated: Another characteristic of PBA episodes is that though the crying or laughing may be appropriate for the situation, the emotions are exaggerated – they’re more intense or last longer than the situation calls for.

PBA is different from depression, though it is often mistaken for it. Many individuals may have both conditions. It is important that each condition be diagnosed and treated separately. Generally speaking, depression is an ongoing and continuous state of sadness or hopelessness that can last for weeks, months, or even more long term. PBA episodes are relatively brief, spontaneous eruptions that may not truly reflect what a person is feeling inside, or at least to the extent that it appears. 

Accommodation Ideas for PBA:

Stress may exacerbate the symptoms of individuals with PBA. For this reason, employers may want to consider accommodations to help reduce and/or remove stressors in the work environment. Not everyone with PBA may need accommodations to perform their jobs and others may only need a few. The following is only a sample of the possibilities available. Numerous other accommodation solutions may exist.

Stress / Emotions:

Situations and Solutions:

Read the following real-life examples of individuals with PBA in the workplace:

Situation:  A court employee was having difficulty with emotions after returning to work following a TBI.  She was diagnosed with PBA where she would have outbursts of uncontrollable laughter at seemingly inappropriate times.

Solution:  The employee asked that her co-workers be educated on PBA so they would better understand what could be viewed as inappropriate laughter.  She was also accommodated with extra breaks to help manage her stress, a temporary lightening of her workload, and a flexible schedule to allow her time for counseling and doctor appointments.

Situation:  An engineer/project manager returned to work after a twelve week leave that helped him recover from a stroke. He was having difficulty with sudden bouts of crying in front of others at improper times. His manager spoke to him about it and the resulting awkward team interactions. 

Solution: The employee requested leave under the ADA to seek a medical diagnosis and treatment. Telework was also discussed as an accommodation that could assist him until he could get his condition under better control.

Tips for Living with PBA

Be open about it. Let people know that you cannot always control your emotions because of a neurologic condition. This can help ensure that people are not surprised, confused or insulted.

Distract yourself. If you feel an episode coming on, try to focus on something unrelated.

Breathe. Take slow deep breaths until you are in control.

Relax. Release the tension in your forehead, shoulders, and other muscle groups that tense up during a PBA episode.

Change your body positions. Note the posture you take when having an episode. When you think you are about to cry or laugh, change your position.

These tips are general coping techniques. Consult with your doctor for medical advice and additional ways to manage PBA symptoms when episodes occur and guidance about whether a treatment plan may be appropriate. Please feel free to contact JAN if you seek assistance in coping with PBA in the workplace.




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

5 - Spasmodic Dysphonia: Accommodations for the Workplace

Spasmodic dysphonia is a rare neurological disorder affecting the movement of the vocal cords during speech.  It is a type of focal dystonia in which involuntary spasms affect movement of the muscles that are used to vibrate the vocal folds to produce speech sounds.  The vocal folds are also known colloquially as “vocal cords.” There are three types: the adductor type; the abductor type; and the mixed type, in which elements of both are present.  All types cause difficulty using one’s voice to speak, although the adductor type tends to result in a strained voice, while the abductor type tends to cause excessive breathiness when speaking.  The typical age of onset is between 30 and 50.  There is no cure at present, but there are treatments that can help to manage the symptoms and enhance communication.

Treatment options include voice therapy, surgery, and injections of botulinum toxin.  A combination of injection therapy and voice therapy is not an uncommon approach. Leave may be needed for medical management involving botulinum toxin injections, as patients may need to travel some distance to reach a qualified provider.  The injections typically need to be repeated, as the effects tend to wear off over a period of three to four months.  Voice therapy provided by a speech language pathologist is more likely to be available locally and may require either leave or a modified schedule, depending on availability and the individual’s treatment plan.  Voice therapy is not usually used alone except in mild cases.  However, a speech language pathologist may be involved in the diagnostic stage, regardless of severity of symptoms.  Surgery is not usually attempted unless other treatment methods prove unsuccessful.

In addition to leave and modified schedules to seek treatment, employees may benefit from accommodations to enhance communication and improve their access to meetings and trainings.  Some strategies that may improve access include appropriate turn-taking and holding meetings in quiet areas.  Some individuals may choose to use assistive technology such as amplification or speech-generating devices, but this is a personal choice.  Amplification can make the person’s voice louder, but amplification alone cannot change qualities such as hoarseness and breathiness that can make a person’s speech challenging to understand.  In contrast, using a speech-generating device may allow for communication that is clear and easy to understand, but some users would prefer to use their own natural voice, or at most amplification.  Likewise, accommodations for telephone use may be beneficial, but the individual should be consulted as to the type of accommodation that they find helpful.  Options include outgoing amplification, hearing carryover TTY, use of speech-to-speech relay services, speech-generating devices where desired and beneficial, and using other methods such as instant messaging and email when feasible.

Counseling and support group participation may also help with adjustment to living with spasmodic Dysphonia as well as stress. Both online and in-person support groups are available through the National Spasmodic Dysphonia Association (NSDA). Employees may benefit from accommodations such as modified schedules and modified policies that allow them to access these resources. 


American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). (2016) Spasmodic Dysphonia Retrieved October 5, 2016, from http://www.asha.org/content.aspx?id=14079&LangType=1033

Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF). (2016) Spasmodic Dysphonia/ Laryngeal Dystonia Retrieved October 5, 2016, from https://www.dystonia-foundation.org/what-is-dystonia/forms-of-dystonia/focal-dystonias/laryngeal-dystonia

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). (2014) Spasmodic Dysphonia Retrieved October 5, 2016, from https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/spasmodic-dysphonia 

National Spasmodic Dysphonia Association (NSDA) (2016). Spasmodic Dysphonia.  Retrieved October 5, 2016, from https://www.dysphonia.org/

- Teresa Goddard, M.S., Lead Consultant, Sensory Team

6 - National Disability Employment Awareness Month 2016: #InclusionWorks

National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is here, and this year’s theme is “#InclusionWorks.”

What started out as one week in 1945 has evolved and grown into a month-long observance celebrating America’s diverse workforce, specifically employees with disabilities.

The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) encourages employers, schools, and unions to join in the festivities and provides marketing material, daily tips, and ideas and strategies to advance inclusion efforts. For more information or to download the NDEAM poster, go to https://www.dol.gov/odep/topics/ndeam/

JAN resources are always available on various platforms that can be used as part of a diversity training, to stay up to date on changes within the ADA, or to educate on best practices. For more information on JAN trainings, go to http://askjan.org/training/index.htm

Those participating are urged to use the #InclusionWorks hashtag on social media platforms to share their efforts and show how their organization understands the value of fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce.

- Lisa Matthess, SHRM-CP, M.A., Senior Consultant, Motor Team

7 - JAN Blog Growing

The Ask JAN Blog provides an opportunity for you to share with others your workplace accommodation solutions. 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!

8 - JAN Releases New Resources

9 - E-vents

10 - 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.

11 - 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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