From the desk of Melanie Whetzel, M.A., CBIS, Principal Consultant, Team Lead
As an educator, have you ever received a back-to-school survival kit? These kits are a thoughtful, fun way to look at the difficulties and challenges teachers face and to provide an object as a “solution” to those challenges. A few examples of objects that might be found in a survival kit include a crayon to color your day bright and cheerful, a paper clip for holding it all together, a rubber band to help you remember to stay flexible, bandages for when things get a little rough, smiley face stickers to remind you to always wear yours, animal crackers for when the classroom becomes a zoo, and a clothespin for hanging in there. If only it were that easy!
But educators who have difficulties and challenges because of a disability need real solutions. Those solutions can come in the way of job accommodations. For an educator with a disability, being prepared for the new school year may mean having your accommodations put into place before the school year actually begins. This will go a long way towards easing your mind and allowing you more confidence and success in the classroom. Let JAN assist you in the accommodation process. Find more at JAN's A to Z for Educators. It contains helpful ADA information, resources, and a vast array of accommodation ideas. Our consultants can provide assistance with questions you may have concerning any step in the process. And of course, JAN services are free and confidential.
Below are examples of actual accommodation situations and solutions fielded by JAN consultants that allowed educators a more effective school year:
- An elementary teacher with bone cancer was accommodated with a designated parking space near the entrance that was closest to her classroom. Redistributing the duties of paraprofessionals in the building allowed for help with escorting the children to the cafeteria, music and art rooms, and the gymnasium.
- A special education teacher with agoraphobia had been off on leave for a school year. With her psychiatrist's help, she determined that she could return to work if the school was within a five-mile radius of her home – the distance she and her doctor considered safe for her to travel. There were actually six schools within that area. She asked for an accommodation of being placed in one of those particular schools when a special education position came open.
- A teacher at an elementary school had been diagnosed with both Attention Deficit Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. She had great difficulty getting to work on time. She had asked for an accommodation of a flexible schedule. On the days that she couldn’t get to school by the time the children arrived to the classroom, she had asked that the principal come into her classroom and get her day started. The accommodation was denied. Eventually, the teacher was convinced to make lists of what needed to be done at night (getting her clothing, lunch, school items, etc. ready) and using a watch with multiple settings to help her pace herself in the mornings. She also devised a checklist system so that she did not do multiple checks of locked doors, the oven, the iron, and other things that concerned her.
- A newly hired teacher with a seizure disorder used a service animal to alert her that a seizure was coming on. The school had a “no animal” policy. The school allowed the teacher to bring her service animal to work and to keep it with her in her classroom. She was also provided breaks to take the service animal outside and given the opportunity to educate coworkers about the use of service animals.
- A teacher with fatigue related to fibromyalgia was having difficulty complying with a school policy that teachers had to go to the office to clock in and out each day. The teacher was excused from complying with the policy and was allowed to call the office from her classroom instead.
- A high school guidance counselor with ADD was having problems with concentration due to the noise outside the office. His school provided him with soundproofing and a floor fan for white noise. The accommodation was very successful.
- A college professor requested the accommodation of an office with windows because natural lighting is needed and helpful for her lupus. Because professors with more seniority were offered the offices with windows, the employer wasn’t sure if, because of a union agreement, it would be possible to override the seniority issue. JAN suggested the use of full-spectrum lighting that has nearly the same effect as the natural lighting and can be found in task lighting, desk and floor lamps, light boxes, and torchieres, as well as replacement bulbs for existing lighting.
So instead of waiting until you need the tiny shovel in your survival kit to help you dig out from underneath the difficulties you are experiencing or using the piece of string to tie everything together when it all falls apart, consider letting JAN help you get your accommodations in place before school starts and the challenges become overwhelming.