Breaking the Mold with Workplace Accommodations

Posted by Kim Cordingly on December 6, 2017 under Accommodations, ADAAA, Employers, Organizations, Products / Technology | Be the First to Comment

By: Brittany Lambert, Consultant – Sensory and Cognitive/Neurological Teams

The consultants on JAN’s sensory team frequently field questions regarding allergies and respiratory impairments. One common trigger for allergic reactions and respiratory distress is exposure to mold. Many employers are unsure of the appropriate steps to take upon learning that an employee has a sensitivity to mold. Is this an ADA issue? What accommodation options should be considered? These are just a couple of the questions employers may have while navigating the interactive process with an employee who is sensitive to mold.

What exactly is mold? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are several thousand species of fungi that are classified as molds. Some of the most common species of molds include Cladosporium, Penicillium, Alternaria, and Aspergillus. Mold spores are present virtually everywhere, but mold growth is particularly plentiful in warm places with lots of moisture and humidity. Buildings that have been subjected to water damage are especially prone to mold growth.

Many employers who contact JAN are unsure whether mold sensitivity is considered a disability under the ADA. The ADA does not include a list of medical conditions that are considered disabilities. Rather, it contains a general definition of disability. Under the ADA, a person with a disability is someone who:

  1. Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;
  2. Has a record of such an impairment; or
  3. Is regarded as having such an impairment.

In order to fall under the ADA’s protection, an individual must meet this definition. JAN provides additional guidance that may assist employers in making this determination.

The health consequences of mold exposure will vary from person to person. This means some individuals with mold sensitivity will meet the ADA’s definition of disability, and some will not. For those with relatively healthy immune systems, symptoms of exposure may be mild. The CDC states that the most common symptoms include nasal stuffiness, wheezing, coughing, and irritation to the eyes or skin. People who have respiratory impairments, mold allergies, or compromised immune systems may experience more severe symptoms. Individuals with asthma may be at increased risk for an asthma attack when exposed to mold. According to the Mayo Clinic, those with compromised immune systems may develop an allergic reaction or infection in the lungs after contact with Aspergillus spores. This disease, known as aspergillosis, can become very serious if the infection enters the blood vessels.

How can employers accommodate employees with mold sensitivity? Exposure to mold should be eliminated or reduced whenever possible. Mold remediation can be a good place to start. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers guidance on this process in its 2008 publication entitled Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings. If the employer chooses to continue operations during the cleanup, it may be appropriate to move the employee to another location, or allow the employee to telework until the mold has been removed. Temporary job restructuring, as well as leave time, may also be effective.

After remediation has occurred, the employer should take appropriate steps to prevent future mold growth. It is critical to identify and address sources of moisture within the workplace. Installing a dehumidifier can help to eliminate excess moisture in the air. An air purifier with a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter may reduce the spread of allergens by trapping airborne mold spores. It can also be beneficial to consult with a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) specialist to ensure optimum air quality within the building. You can find an industrial hygienist in your area by using the American Industrial Hygiene Association’s Consultants Listing resource.

Masks can sometimes be an effective solution, but employers should consider this option carefully. While masks may work well for some employees, they pose significant concerns for others. Depending on the individual and the medical condition involved, masks may be contraindicated. We generally advise employees to consult with a medical provider to determine what options may be safe to use. Not all masks are created equal, and it’s important to choose an option that is designed to filter the irritant in question. Some employees may be uncomfortable with wearing a mask because it will be visible to others in the workplace. To avoid coercing employees into disclosing that they are receiving an accommodation, employers should not insist that employees use a mask unless an employee wishes to do so voluntarily. Employers should consider these factors when examining the effectiveness of this accommodation option.

It may be necessary to provide accommodations that allow the employee to manage symptoms if exposure does occur. The employee may benefit from additional breaks to use medication or get fresh air. A flexible schedule, including intermittent leave as needed, may also be effective.

Dealing with workplace mold can be challenging, but appropriate accommodations may help to ensure the safety, well-being, and productivity of employees. If you have further questions, feel free to contact JAN for an individualized consultation.

Additional Resources:

Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) and Environmental Illness (EI)

Accommodation and Compliance Series: Respiratory Impairment

Searchable Online Accommodation Resource: Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS)

 

 

Observations from the 2017 Harkin Summit

Posted by Kim Cordingly on November 30, 2017 under Accommodations, ADAAA, Employers, Events, Organizations | Be the First to Comment

By: Lou Orslene – JAN Co-Director

On November 2nd and 3rd, hundreds of people from around the world gathered at the Second Harkin Summit on Global Disability Employment to listen, network, and discuss the continuing employment challenges faced by people with disabilities, as well as to share the many inclusionary promising policies and practices initiated by policy makers, employers, and organizations supporting the aspirations of people with disabilities. We should all be very grateful to retired Senator Tom Harkin for continuing his passion to ensure the independence of people with disabilities through employment. This event enabled various constituencies who are passionate about this topic to convene and set a goal of substantially increasing the labor force participation rate of people with disabilities worldwide over the next ten years. While the challenges and models being developed internationally are important to us all, I have chosen to speak primarily to our domestic issues.

On the demand side, many private and public sector employers (EY, Merck, MicroSoft, J.P Morgan Chase, Scotiabank, Comcast, Walmart, New York City’s Office of the Mayor) known for their inclusive workplaces and for hiring, retaining, and advancing people with disabilities discussed their internal and external challenges. Examples of some of the challenges faced by these employers included: educating risk aversive lawyers about inclusion; understanding the value of various service providers for people with disabilities; circumventing the limitations of a placement-focused employment model; creating a process and culture where applicants and candidates with disabilities are comfortable disclosing; and the perennial question of where to source highly qualified candidates for specialized jobs. One thing I heard clearly is that employer needs are quite varied. The company’s size, culture, leadership, and hiring needs are determinates in moving the enterprise forward along the inclusion continuum. This also has implications for replicating successful practices – what may work for one employer may not easily be adapted for another employer.

On the supply side, an increased number of young people with disabilities are earning advanced degrees and graduating with the skills and knowledge needed for employment. However, transitioning from school to work is particularly challenging for many young people with disabilities who may not have the soft skills expected by employers. Others may have such low expectations of themselves that work seems unachievable. While these barriers are significant for young people transitioning to work from college or university, transitioning young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities also face difficulties. The transition from sheltered workshops to competitive employment has been and continues to be a challenge. More choices need to be available for people with intellectual disabilities. New models need to be developed and programs known for their promising results need to be expanded.

Demand side solutions proposed at the Summit included educating and partnering with company lawyers thereby creating greater confidence in the disclosure and self-identification process. Across departments and sectors, ensuring everyone in the company understands the value proposition of hiring and retaining people with disabilities should be prioritized. There was much talk too about how technology will continue to level the playing field. Accessibility builds inclusion was the mantra. One consistent message permeated the Summit – government is important for creating solutions. Strengthening of the ADA and requiring Federal contractors to hire and retain people with disabilities have been and are expected to continue to be important to increasing the employment of people with disabilities. We also heard from state and local public sector employers exploring special hiring authorities such as the Federal government’s Schedule A program. This as well as other Federal initiatives are resulting in increasing the number of people in Federal service. And, from the conversations at the Summit, it may be time for expansion of successful existing employer-driven models such as Project Search and the Going for the Gold Program or even the creation of a new disability employment model evolving out of the talent needs of employers. Finally, there were conversations about developing a workgroup to analyze incentives for employing people – while these have had limited success in the past, it seemed important for participants to continue exploring the relevance of specific incentives.

On the supply side, I was heartened to hear of the World Institute on Disability’s (WID) Employment and Economic Empowerment E3 online resource, which addresses “often overlooked roadblocks to full inclusion and equity,”  including the low expectations young people have of themselves. Empowerment was a central theme of the discussions about preparing young people for the workplace. This came through loudly during a panel featuring stories by a number of young people. The approach they suggested was to empower youth to ensure they know they fit in. These young leaders shared with other young people that they will face challenges, but it is essential to be resilient, creative, and innovative. Important to this approach also is educating those in the rehabilitation system, as well as employers, about the value young people with disabilities bring to the workplace. These presenters suggested that employers should be guided by respect for diversity and strive to create a sense of belonging for employees. In addition to WID E3, leaders from Specialisterne discussed their knowledge of matching individuals with autism spectrum disorders with employment opportunities.

The Summit also included a number of foundations committed to moving the field of disability and employment forward. The Kessler Foundation’s 2017 National Employment & Disability Survey: Supervisor Perspectives; the Poses Family Foundation’s The Workforce Initiative, and the Ruderman Family Foundation’s Inclusion Summit participated in the Summit. The Ford Foundation, pushing fast and furious into this area with the help of Senior Fellow Judy Heumann, was represented by the Foundation’s President, Darren Walker.

The Summit ended with Dr. Jim Yong Kim, President, World Bank Group. One thing came through loud and clear during Dr. Kim’s discussion with Senator Harkin – while we need to overcome the historic challenges we all have recognized for decades, we also need to be cognizant of the future threat of automation and the impact this will have on employment. It is expected as rate of automation increases low skill and entry level positions will disappear. Dr. Kim suggested that we stay tuned to the World Bank’s soon to be released environmental and social framework strongly correlating government spending on health and education with economic growth. World Bank research suggests that improving health is now known to be the biggest determinant of economic growth. Preliminary data on this is overwhelming. The message is invest in people first, make sure it is an inclusive process, and then this will create growth.

A big thanks goes out to Joseph Jones, Executive Director, The Harkin Institute for Public Policy & Citizen Engagement; Andy Imparato, Executive Director, Association of University Centers on Disabilities; and their teams for organizing this event. A special thanks also to all of the other leaders who moderated sessions.

We look forward to supporting and playing a part in the Harkin Summit goal of doubling the labor force participation rate of people with disabilities in the United States in the next 10 years through our work at JAN.

 

 

 

 

October is ADHD Awareness Month

Posted by Kim Cordingly on October 12, 2017 under Accommodations, ADAAA, Employers, Events, Uncategorized | Comments are off for this article

Melanie Whetzel, Lead Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team

ADHD Awareness Month is celebrated annually to help improve the lives of those living with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The theme for 2017, Knowing Better: ADHD Across the Life Span, highlights how individuals are affected at all stages of their lives. Focusing on the life span means being aware of the effects of ADHD at different times of life. It’s better for parents to know that ADHD might be part of the picture so they can seek out the help their child might need. It’s better for young adults to know so they might arrange for appropriate accommodations in school or the workplace. Lastly, it’s better for adults at any stage to recognize their ADHD so they can take proactive steps in their life and won’t be faced with underachievement and frustration.

ADHD is defined as, “a neurodevelopmental disorder affecting both children and adults. It is described as a ‘persistent’ or on-going pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that gets in the way of daily life or typical development. Individuals with ADHD may also have difficulties with maintaining attention, executive function (or the brain’s ability to begin an activity, organize itself and manage tasks) and working memory.”

Over 17 million Americans are affected by ADHD. At JAN, we consult daily with numerous people in a variety of situations to help employees with ADHD become more successful and productive in the workplace. We can help answer questions and guide individuals through the accommodation process that often begins with the application and interview stages, and may continue throughout the employment cycle.

Here are a few sample situations and solutions:

Situation: Stephen is a job applicant with questions about accommodations that might be needed while taking an employment test.

Solution: We spoke to him about what is required in a disclosure when requesting accommodations. Stephen wanted to request a private room in which to take a test instead of with multiple other applicants in a larger, more distracting room.

Situation: Tony is an attorney who contacted JAN for assistance with accommodations that could be put into place to help him with organization, prioritization, and task completion. He wasn’t sure what to ask for, or how.

Solution: As we walked Tony through the accommodation process, we got more details about the tasks he had the most difficulty with. Between Tony and the consultant, many practical accommodation ideas were formulated. Obtaining a mentor to help with prioritizing; color-coding daily, weekly, and monthly calendars; and working on more difficult tasks when he has the most mental acuity were just a few of the ideas he felt could work for him.

Situation: Hector is an employee who just disclosed his disability to his supervisor after a written warning, and is asking how best to show his supervisor that ADHD is real.

Solution: A JAN employment specialist explained the need for medical documentation not only to verify his medical condition, but also to substantiate the need for the accommodations he would be requesting.

Situation: Suzette is a reporter with the skills to do a phenomenal job, but struggles with distractions in the midst of a crowded, busy, and noisy newsroom. Her employer contacted JAN with concerns after Suzette asked to work from home when faced with strict deadlines.

Solution: Suzette’s employer was concerned about her isolation from her co-workers as well as from the downtown area where most of the news occurred. A trial accommodation of telework was discussed. The employer felt it was worth trying, contingent upon Suzette’s ability to get to the scene of breaking news quickly.

See JAN publications on ADHD and Executive Functioning for further accommodation ideas. Contact us directly for one-on-one assistance.

Additional Resources:

National Institute of Mental Health – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention Deficit Disorder Association – ADHD: The Facts

Workplace Supports for Employees with Breast Cancer

Posted by Kim Cordingly on October 10, 2017 under Accommodations, Employers, Organizations | Comments are off for this article

By: Tracie DeFreitas, Lead Consultant, ADA Specialist – Survivor

It’s October again. For many people, October is a time for pumpkin spice everything, watching football, feeling the warmth of a cozy sweatshirt, and enjoying the colors of fall as the leaves change to red, orange, and yellow. These are the traditional colors of fall, but pink is another color we see a lot of this time of year – because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This time each year, my thoughts lead to personal reflection because five years ago, in October, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 40. As you might expect, the news was not anticipated. I was immediately faced with making decisions about surgery and treatment, and also, understanding what, if any, impact the diagnosis might have on my future.

One worry I did not have at that time, was how my employer would react to the news of my diagnosis. Being part of the JAN family, there is comfort in knowing that my employer values what I bring to the table and is willing to support me to be successful at work, and in life. Unfortunately, many people who face a breast cancer diagnosis are not so fortunate – their thoughts quickly turn to wondering if they will be able to continue working, if they can take time off for treatment, and if their employer will look for a way to let them go simply because they have cancer. Amidst the worry of survival, one should not also have to worry about livelihood, but this is a reality for many.

According to the American Cancer Society, there are more than 3.1 million breast cancer survivors in the United States; this includes people still being treated and those who have completed treatment. Many survivors find that continuing to work through cancer treatment aids in their recovery. Based on my personal experience, I agree with this notion. Ability to work during treatment can be influenced by the type of treatment received (e.g., chemo, radiation, etc.), the stage of cancer, the individual’s overall wellbeing, and the kind of work the individual does. The availability and effectiveness of workplace supports, also known as job accommodations, can also significantly impact a survivor’s ability to continue working. Being supported in the workplace makes it easier to remember who you are, apart from the cancer. It allows you to continue contributing at work and get on with living.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations that are needed because of limitations caused by cancer, the side effects of medication or treatment for cancer, or both. The objective in providing accommodations is to make adjustments that enable an employee to perform essential job duties, or access benefits and privileges of employment. Accommodations that are commonly requested by employees with breast cancer, such as a modified/flexible schedule, ergonomic equipment, and telework, are also workplace supports that many employers make available to all employees, for reasons that are unrelated to disability – often to achieve a healthy balance between managing life and work. These adjustments not only benefit employees with cancer, but benefit employers as well, by increasing employee presence and leading to less worry about when and how work will be completed.

In my own experience, I took a couple days of leave for surgery and was able to schedule all cancer treatments to occur before my work day started, but my employer allowed me the flexibility to modify my schedule, if needed. Remember though, each individual’s accommodation needs will be different and will sometimes depend on access to treatment and the effects of treatment. I had access to medical care where I lived and worked, which made it easier for me to seek treatment outside of my work schedule. Not everyone is this fortunate. Some employees may need to flex their arrival/departure time to receive treatment, make-up time missed, schedule longer days to work a shortened work week, telework while recovering, or use accrued or unpaid leave in order to travel to receive treatment. These and other types of adjustments can positively impact health outcomes by freeing individuals from the worry of choosing when and how to obtain treatment in order to stay employed.

Local and systemic breast cancer treatments can cause short and long-term side effects that can impact performance of job duties, for some people, but not all. These effects can include: nausea and vomiting; fatigue and weakness; loss of appetite; skin irritations; loss of hair; lymphedema; pain and numbness; temperature sensitivity; diarrhea; and difficulty with memory and concentration (e.g., “chemo brain”). Many of these limitations can easily be accommodated in the workplace. Accommodations for employees with breast cancer range widely, but some examples include:

  • Working a flexible/modified schedule or making-up time missed for treatment, appointments, etc.
  • Working a reduced/part-time schedule or changing a shift
  • Using accrued paid leave, or unpaid leave under the ADA and/or federal and state leave laws, and modifying an attendance policy to allow disability-related absences
  • Parking closer to the work-site
  • Working from home, as-needed, or on a regular basis
  • Modifying a dress code to allow wearing a scarf, hat, unrestrictive clothing
  • Reducing visual and auditory distractions
  • Taking breaks for mental and physical fatigue
  • Restructuring a job so the most difficult tasks are performed at the time of day the employee has the most mental and/or physical energy or stamina
  • Designating uninterrupted time for tasks that require significant concentration
  • Using ergonomic equipment to accommodate tightness or pain in the upper region of the body
  • Modifying work-site temperature

Researchers continue to search for ways to prevent, treat, and cure breast cancer. We’re reminded every October of the ongoing race to save lives. With employer support, open communication about performance expectations and accommodations, and good planning, employees with breast cancer can be better equipped for survival and success at work and in life. JAN can support employers and survivors in this effort by offering ADA technical assistance and accommodation guidance. For general information about cancer, accommodations, and the ADA, see JAN’s website for Accommodation Ideas for Cancer, or contact us for individualized consultation.

Additional Resources:

American Cancer Society – Breast Cancer

National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health – Breast Cancer

All Disabilities Matter in an Inclusive Workplace

Posted by Kim Cordingly on under Accommodations, ADAAA, Employers | Comments are off for this article

By: Benjamin Levi, Employment Specialist

I have recently started working in the disability field assisting individuals with diverse limitations who are trying to acquire workplace accommodations. In the few short months I’ve been working in this field, I have come to realize that people often make assumptions about a person’s disability — some minimizing the effects and some overestimating the severity. Either way, making assumptions about someone’s disability can have a negative impact in the workplace. It can make an employee feel like he or she is not part of the team or not respected as an individual. It can also interfere with providing effective accommodations because these are based on an employee’s actual limitations, not assumptions. Why does this happen? It may be a lack of knowledge, experience, or that an employer is worried about the bottom line despite low cost of accommodation data. Instead of providing the minimum accommodation needed, if an employer focuses on the tools an employee actually needs to be successful, this leads to better productivity outcomes for both the employer and employee.

How can employers overcome this tendency to make assumptions about employees with disabilities? Listen to the individual. Provide disability awareness training for both employees and supervisors in some capacity so that everyone will be more aware of the range of conditions employees may experience in the workplace. Every employee with a disability is unique and should be treated that way. JAN provides resources on disability awareness that can be used for training purposes, or you can contact us directly for more specific resources.

Employees should feel a sense of relief, not anxiety, when engaging with their employer in an interactive process to determine effective and reasonable accommodations. The JAN publication The Interactive Process – JAN’s Effective Accommodation Practices Series provides step-by-step guidance so that employers and employees together can identify accommodations that will be successful and contribute to an inclusive workplace community.

All employees and supervisors share the responsibility in creating an inclusive work environment. Whether it is the employee’s first day on the job, or an extended tenure, there is always a way to become more aware. The JAN Workplace Accommodation Toolkit provides many resources to assist in developing a disability-inclusive and compliant workplace.

Inclusion can provide a healthy workplace environment for all employees and contribute to the success of any organization. More awareness and fewer assumptions can make a huge difference. If you have any questions or would like more information on this topic, please feel free to reach out to us!

 

 

Maximum Leave Policies and the ADA

Posted by Kim Cordingly on October 6, 2017 under Accommodations, ADAAA, Employers | Comments are off for this article

By: Tracie DeFreitas, Lead Consultant – ADA Specialist

Leave-related accommodation issues are among the most complex and challenging under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). ADA leave can be administered in various ways, and in conjunction with employer leave policies and benefit programs, and federal and state leave laws. Deciphering and administering the requirements of federal and state leave laws can perplex even the most astute leave management specialist. Employers should be aware of the interplay between their own policies and state and federal leave laws when exploring leave as an accommodation under the ADA.

While the murkiness of applying leave benefits and entitlements can leave one clambering for clarity, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has made one point quite clear in the ADA-land of leave as an accommodation; when reasonable, employers can be expected to make an exception to a maximum leave policy to grant extended leave as an accommodation under the ADA. What is a maximum leave policy? This is a workplace policy that limits the amount of leave employees can take, regardless of the reason for the need for leave, culminating in termination when employees cannot return to work before the leave period ends.

Maximum leave policies often cap the number of weeks allowed at 12, consistent with the amount of time permitted under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), or can require caps that are either lower or much higher than 12 weeks (e.g., even one year or more). While these policies are permissible in general, the ADA requires employers to consider extending leave beyond the maximum leave allowed by policy when additional leave is needed due to a disability-related reason. When employers do not engage in the interactive process and make exceptions to policies (when reasonable), they are sometimes met with a discrimination claim from EEOC. Multiple employers have been forced to defend their maximum or inflexible leave policies, including Blood Bank of Hawaii, UPS, Dillard’s Dept. Stores, Interstate Distributor Co., and Sears Roebuck. One of the most notable settlements was with Lowes in 2016.

I know what you’re thinking — how does not being at work for six months enable an employee to do their job? This doesn’t make sense. The objective in providing leave as a reasonable accommodation is to allow a qualified employee with a disability the job-protected time that is needed to manage their medical impairment in order to return to the workforce, whether that be within three weeks, six months, or twelve. Sometimes, more leave is required than initially anticipated (e.g., usually due to unforeseen complications) and this can lead to a request to extend leave beyond the maximum leave period allowed by employer policy. When the need for extended leave becomes apparent, an interactive process is necessary under the ADA to determine – on a case-by-case basis – if it is possible to make an exception to the policy and extend leave.

There is no pre-determined duration of leave time that is required to be granted as an accommodation under the ADA. Nothing within the ADA or EEOC enforcement guidance dictates how much additional leave is required to be granted. However, employers must be clear in knowing they cannot simply rest on the requirements of their maximum leave policy to robotically deny leave when the ADA applies. Employers do have the discretion to decide how much leave is reasonable and should assess this by applying an undue hardship analysis.

How can undue hardship be established in leave-related situations? JAN cannot indicate when undue hardship is apparent, but we can offer a practical tip: accurately and objectively document the impact of the employee’s absence on business operations and leave emotions and feelings out of the analysis. It’s one thing to say that employee morale is low because Kenny hasn’t been to work in 12 weeks, but employee morale doesn’t factor in when assessing undue hardship. On the other hand, if Eric, Kyle, and Maria each have to repeatedly work ten hours or more of overtime each week that Kenny is absent in order to meet the production demands of the business, then this is a fact that will result in a multifaceted impact that can be taken into consideration. Document the facts, not the feelings. The objective is to adequately capture factual information to objectively analyze undue hardship, not to use the information to penalize the employee who is using leave.

Detailed information about maximum leave policies, leave as an ADA accommodation, and assessing undue hardship can be found in the EEOC publication, Employer-Provided Leave and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The EEOC has also issued a number of other documents that discuss how the ADA addresses various leave and attendance issues, including their enforcement guidance documents on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship under the ADA and Applying Performance and Conduct Standards to Employees with Disabilities.

 

An Interview with Barbara Bissonnette of Forward Motion Coaching

Posted by Kim Cordingly on May 30, 2017 under Accommodations, ADAAA, Employers, Organizations | Comments are off for this article

By: Melanie Whetzel, Lead Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team

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 Barbara Bissonnette, certified coach and the Principal of Forward Motion Coaching. She specializes in career development coaching and workplace advocacy for individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome and Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NLD). She also offers training for professionals and consultations for parents.

Barbara is the author of the award-winning books: The Complete Guide to Getting a Job for People with Asperger’s Syndrome; the Asperger’s Syndrome Workplace Survival Guide: A Neurotypical’s Secrets for Success; and Helping Adults with Asperger’s Syndrome Get & Stay Hired: Career Coaching Strategies for Professionals and Parents of Adults on the Autism Spectrum. She also publishes the Asperger’s & NLD Career Letter which is available at no charge.

JAN consultants use and value the information available in Barbara’s books and newsletters, and had the opportunity last summer to attend her in-person training in Buffalo, New York. Read what Barbara has to say about herself and the services she offers that assist in employment situations.

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background, and how you got started in coaching.

Before coaching I had a business career, primarily in marketing. After 20 years, I wanted to give back my experience to people who could really benefit from it. I decided on coaching, expecting to work with small business owners.

I was midway through a graduate certificate program in executive coaching when I happened upon a workshop about coaching people with Asperger’s Syndrome. I attended for my own interest, and was fascinated by what I heard. I began networking with professionals, all of whom thought there was a need for employment coaching. That was in 2006, and I have specialized my practice since then.

Could you briefly explain your consultative services? What you do for the people who contact you? 

I offer several services. One is coaching for individuals, either locally in Massachusetts or long distance via telephone or Skype. My practice is split between individuals who are seeking employment, and those who are facing challenges on the job.

I also consult with parents to help them figure out the type of occupation that will be manageable for their son or daughter. Some want to better understand the impact of Asperger’s or NLD.

Additionally, I consult with employers who know or suspect that they have an employee who is on the autism spectrum. Typically they want to learn more about how Asperger’s impacts an adult in the workplace, and what they can do to address performance problems. An employer sponsors me to coach an employee.

You mainly serve individuals with autism spectrum disorders, nonverbal learning disabilities, and those with other communication challenges, but are there other co-existing conditions or disabilities that are challenging as well?

The majority of my clients have Asperger’s Syndrome (and similar autism spectrum profiles) or NLD. I have also worked with people who have Turner Syndrome, agenesis of the corpus callosum (which can look very much like Asperger’s), hydrocephalus, and AD/HD.

How do you determine if coaching is the right thing for the people who contact you? Is that normally accomplished through the free 30 minutes?

The free, 30-minute session is for prospective coaching clients. They tell me about their situation, and why they are thinking about working with a coach. Then I explain how coaching works and answer their questions.

Coaching is an interactive process. To be effective, a client must be willing to learn or develop skills. He or she must also be willing to follow through on action steps in between the sessions. New clients commit to three sessions, so they can test whether it is right for them.

What would the average (if there is such a thing) schedule for coaching look like?

People usually have a session once per week, at least in the beginning. I don’t do coaching less frequently than every-other-week, because when too much time goes by in between sessions, people lose their focus and don’t make progress. Clients typically work with me for two to nine months. The length of time depends on the individual and what he or she is trying to accomplish.

What are some of the most common issues and difficulties the individuals you work with experience?

I’ll begin with job seekers. Many are intimidated and confused by the interview process. I help them understand the purpose of various questions, and how to clearly communicate their abilities. We may also work on body language. Recently, a client explained that she found it difficult to both listen and look at people. During interviews, she focused her gaze on objects. She was not aware that she was sending a nonverbal message that she was not interested in the job.

Often clients need assistance with resumes. A man with strong qualifications sent over 200 resumes, without being invited to a single interview. I saw one problem immediately: the font size was tiny! I explained that the resume was nearly impossible to read. This client was using a template that automatically adjusted the font size to fit on one page. He followed my suggestion to discard the template, and created an easy-to-read resume. Within one month he had several interviews.

Clients who are employed often have problems with interpersonal communication and/or organizational skills.

Communication is a broad area. The person may misunderstand employer expectations, or miss signals that there is a performance problem. He may ask too many questions, or disrupt co-workers with unusual behavior – as one man who said hello to everyone who walked past his cubicle. An employee may continually challenge others, wanting to perform a task her way, or tell colleagues that their ideas are silly.

Other clients experience executive function difficulties, and struggle to complete tasks efficiently. They need tools and strategies to organize assignments, manage time and identify priorities. Some must learn to control their emotions, especially anger and frustration.

What do you find most rewarding?

Watching the progress people make when a concept is explained in a way that they can understand, or when they learn a strategy that solves a problem.

How can individuals contact you for assistance?

I suggest visiting my Web site www.ForwardMotion.info. There, a person can learn more about my services, download free guides, and sign up for a free subscription to my monthly newsletter, the Asperger’s & NLD Career Letter. To arrange the free session for prospective coaching clients, individuals can email me at Barbara@Forwardmotion.info.

 

Shining a Light on Sun Safety

Posted by Kim Cordingly on May 25, 2017 under Accommodations, Employers, Organizations, Products / Technology | Comments are off for this article

By: Sarah Small, Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month! As thunderstorms hit and temperatures rise, I’m reminded that summer is quickly approaching. Time sure does fly by — it feels like we were just celebrating the holidays. With warm weather comes gardening, swimming, cookouts, hiking, and various other outdoor activities. It’s important that we remember to protect ourselves when we are in the sun. While having a warm summer glow can be nice, we want to make sure we are staying hydrated and protecting ourselves from harmful UV rays.

At JAN, we receive calls regarding skin cancer or other medical conditions that cause sensitivity to the sun. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, 1 in 5 Americans will develop some form of skin cancer within their lifetime. In addition, they estimate that there will be 87,110 new cases of invasive melanoma that will be diagnosed in the U.S. during 2017.

Whether you are in the sun for leisure or work, there may be preparations you can make to protect yourself. If you are planning to spend some time in the sun, make sure you are equipped with water, sunglasses, a protective hat, and most importantly, sunscreen. The Skin Cancer Foundation suggests that sunscreen with a SPF of 15 or higher supplies good protection. The SPF appropriate for you may vary depending on complexion, medical history, and sensitivity. Be sure to read the bottle to know how long it will last and when to reapply.

If you are in need of extra protection, you might look into sun protection clothing, window film, or even UV shelters if you will be spending a lengthy amount of time in the direct sunlight. These types of products might be helpful for home use or on the job.

If you have a disability or medical condition that causes sensitivity to the sun, and you work outdoors or are regularly exposed to the sunlight, you might contact JAN and explore specific accommodations that might be needed or could be beneficial.

Don’t let sun sensitivity bring you down and make you stay indoors this summer. There may be solutions that can help you stay protected while also having fun.

JAN Staff promoting Skin Cancer Awareness
JAN Staff Supporting Skin Cancer Awareness Month

Resources:
Accommodation ideas for Photosensitivity
Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Cancer
UV Protection Shelters
Sun/UV Protective Clothing

 

 

Accommodation Ideas for Individuals on Dialysis

Posted by Kim Cordingly on May 24, 2017 under Accommodations, ADAAA, Employers | Comments are off for this article

By: Elisabeth Simpson, Lead Consultant — Motor Team

We recently received an inquiry regarding accommodation options for individuals who are receiving dialysis and are taking time off work to seek the treatment. Employers who are evaluating these types of requests under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may be unsure of the options that can be presented to the employee to lessen the impact on both the individual and the business when a good amount of time is taken away from work. Some individuals receiving dialysis may be able to continue to work with accommodations, in lieu of taking time off work or a leave of absence, depending on their individual needs.

Dialysis is needed when the body alone can no longer remove enough waste products to sustain life. Individuals who are experiencing chronic kidney disease may need dialysis before having a kidney transplant. There are two types of dialysis: hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis. For more specific information on the two types of dialysis, visit JAN’s page on Accommodation Ideas for Renal/Kidney Disease. Accommodations for individuals who require dialysis differ dramatically from one person to another.

Accommodation ideas can include:

  • performing peritoneal dialysis in the office, which would likely require access to storage materials, flexible scheduling, a private and clean area with a cot, and proper biohazard disposal (there are no needles),
  • flexible use of leave time,
  • modified attendance policies,
  • working from home,
  • providing a laptop, tablet device, or wearable technology, possibly with a data plan, that would allow the individual to perform some work from a dialysis center,
  • adjusting break times to allow an individual to rest if experiencing fatigue,
  • reassignment to a position that is less physically demanding and/or allows for flexible leave, telework, etc.,
  • reassignment to a part time position,
  • transferring the individual to a position that is closer to home or a dialysis facility.

Some individuals may not be able to perform aspects of their job remotely; consequently, an adjusted or modified schedule or leave as an accommodation may be the focus of the interactive process. JAN offers information on leave as an accommodation that an employer may want to review. For many occupations, some work can be performed away from the worksite including receiving and responding to emails, writing and editing documents, or developing presentations. With appropriate IT applications and cloud computing, working remotely has become much more feasible. This option will, of course, depend on the nature of the job and the information that the individual may need to access. The types of accommodations available will vary greatly. Generally, an employer would want to consider how much time away from the workplace is needed; whether a schedule can be modified to allow the employee to make up time (i.e., adjusting arrival/departure times); whether work can be performed remotely; and any barriers that might exist that would prevent the employee from performing essential functions of the job in a different way. JAN consultants are happy to offer support to employers and individuals making requests for accommodations related to dialysis.

 

 

Service Animal Access vs. Wheelchair Access – Why the Difference?

Posted by Kim Cordingly on May 19, 2017 under Accommodations, ADAAA, Employers | Comments are off for this article

By: Linda Carter Batiste, Principal Consultant

We’ve been getting more and more questions about service animals in the workplace, both from employers and people with disabilities who use service animals. One of the questions we frequently get is whether employers must automatically allow an employee to bring a service animal to work or whether it’s an accommodation that the employee must request. Most employers believe it’s an accommodation that must be requested, while conversely, some employees believe they should just be able to show up with the service animal, like they do in public places such as stores, restaurants, and movie theaters. When we explain that employment rules differ from public access rules under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and that bringing a service animal to work, in most cases, is an accommodation and therefore must be requested, we often get the following question:

I choose to use a service animal to overcome my disability-related limitations, just like someone else with a disability might choose to use a mobility aid or a hearing aid.  Why do I have to ask permission to bring my service animal to work, but my coworkers who use, for example, wheelchairs don’t have to ask permission to bring their wheelchairs to work?

The answer is that most employers have no-animals-in-the-workplace policies, but very few have no-wheelchairs-in-the-workplace policies. Therefore, employees with service animals must ask the employer to consider modifying the no-animals policy as an accommodation instead of just violating the policy without permission. Of course, if an employer does not have a no-animals policy and lets other employees bring in animals, then an employee with a disability should be able to just show up with a service animal without getting permission.

In case you’re wondering, I have seen employers with no-wheelchairs-in-the-workplace policies, for example in some manufacturing plants or laboratory settings with cleanrooms. In laboratory settings, the problem is typically about the difficulty of sterilizing the wheelchair; cleanrooms must be free from contaminants. In some manufacturing plants, the problem is that the wheelchair can create a spark that could cause an explosion. In these situations, employees who use wheelchairs cannot just show up with the wheelchair; they must let the employer know that they use a wheelchair and ask that the employer consider accommodations that would enable them to work safely.

So it’s not that employers are treating you differently because you choose to use a service animal; the difference has to do with standard, workplace policies.