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)

 

 

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

 

 

Reading Made Easier

Posted by Kim Cordingly on May 5, 2017 under Accommodations, Employers, Events, Products / Technology, Vendors | Comments are off for this article

By: Sarah Small, Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team

This past February, I had the opportunity to attend the annual California State University Northridge (CSUN) Assistive Technology conference in San Diego. While I was there, I got to take in a wide variety of products, resources, and sessions. One particular product that caught my attention was the C-Pen Reader. I noticed their booth across the hall from our JAN booth on the first day. When I got the opportunity to walk around the exhibit hall, I decided to check it out. I soon learned that the C-Pen Reader was a pocket size device that looked similar to a pen or highlighter.

The first pen I tried at the booth was the Reader pen. To use the pen, you simply move it over the line of text you need to read, then hold it up to your ear. The pen also has a place to plug in headphones to help with listening as you scan. The pen reads out loud to you the information on the written document. I thought this could be such a great resource for an individual who occasionally has to read written documents for their job. If someone has difficulty reading or processing auditory information, this might allow them to get through the information more easily, or ensure that they are understanding things correctly. The Reader pen can read aloud in English or Spanish and has a built in dictionary feature that can be used. When needing to know the meaning of a word, you can select the dictionary option and it will display and read the definition. The pen can also scan lines of text to be uploaded to a PC or Mac device.

The second pen I saw was the C-Pen Exam Reader. This pen has the same functions as the Reader pen without the dictionary feature. It can be used for testing situations and allows the material and questions to be read to the employee or student. This pen has the sole function to read and has the ability to be used with five languages — English, Spanish, French, Italian, and German. This pen could be a resource for individuals to request to use in testing situations, or could be something that employers or teachers have on hand for individuals who may benefit from it.

The third type of pen I experimented with was the Dictionary Pen. This pen is used for the dictionary function alone and can be beneficial when there are words that an individual does not know or needs to be reminded of. The Dictionary pen has the ability to work with English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Russian, and Mandarin.

On the cognitive/neurological team here at JAN, we frequently receive calls regarding learning disabilities or other impairments that may affect reading or the way someone processes information. These pens could be helpful as an accommodation for individuals in a variety of situations that require reading.

If you feel you or someone you know may benefit from a product such as a C-Pen, you can find more information on the company’s Website.

For information on typical kinds of accommodations we see for individuals with learning disabilities, as well as some ideas for testing situations, see the following publications:

Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Learning Disabilities

Accommodation and Compliance Series: Testing Accommodations

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

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

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

Mental health is how we feel, think and behave as we manage our lives. Our mental health impacts our relationships and the decisions we make. Living in an increasingly fast-paced and complicated world may cause us to experience difficulty when managing our lives. Like our physical health, paying attention to our mental health is equally essential throughout our lives.

Life can be stressful for all of us at one time or another. Stress can be caused by the annoyances of daily life such as traffic, deadlines at work, or illnesses. It can also be caused by more serious issues like the termination of a job, the loss of a loved one, or financial difficulties. How do we determine if the stress or discomfort we are feeling is a normal reaction to a passing difficulty in our lives or the symptom of a more serious problem, possibly a mental health impairment that may require treatment?

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), mental health impairments are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life. Mental health impairments can affect persons of any age, religion, or race, or any level of income or education. They are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character, or poor upbringing. Mental health impairments are common – they affect approximately 43.8 million Americans in a given year. According to NAMI, one in five adults in the U.S. will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime.

Based on an article on the Mayo Clinic Website entitled Mental Health: What’s Normal, What’s Not, factors you should consider when evaluating your mental health may include the following information about your symptoms:  how long you have had them; how serious they are; how upsetting they are to you; and how they affect your life. If you have questions about your feelings, thoughts or actions and whether the problems you may be experiencing are “normal” or merit some type of evaluation, remember to ask for help. Contact a health care provider such as a family physician. They often can refer you to a more specialized professional if it’s warranted. According to NAMI, early identification and treatment is of vital importance. It’s important to note that the best treatments today for even serious mental illnesses are highly effective.

The Cleveland Clinic offers tips for improving both your physical and mental health and helping to reduce stress. Here are just a few:

  • Learn to relax.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat well-balanced meals.
  • Get plenty of sleep and rest.
  • Don’t rely on drugs or alcohol.

Job accommodations can be vital for the successful employment of individuals with mental health impairments. Difficulties with concentration, memory, organization, task completion, and coworker interaction are just some of the issues an individual with a mental health impairment may experience in the workplace. JAN consultants provide technical assistance to both employees and employers who are seeking information about effective workplace accommodations that affect job performance. See JAN’s mental health publications for accommodation ideas.

The following “real life” examples show how three employees with mental health impairments were successfully accommodated.

An administrative assistant in a social service agency has bipolar disorder. Her duties include typing, word processing, filing, and answering the telephone. She experiences difficulties with concentration and short-term memory. Her accommodations include assistance in organizing her work and a dual headset for her telephone that allows her to listen to music when not talking on the telephone. The use of the headset minimizes distractions, increases concentration, and relaxes the employee. Also, meetings are held with the supervisor once a week to discuss workplace issues. These meetings are recorded so the employee can remember issues they discuss. She can replay the information as often as she needs.

An architect with an anxiety disorder works in a large, busy, and open office. She requests a private workspace to help her handle stress and emotions brought on by the open, crowded, and often noisy environment. The employer agrees, and also provides telework as an option as well as flexible scheduling for when the employee is particularly stressed while under firm deadlines.

An employee with agoraphobia works from home full-time as a benefit of employment.  When new management comes on board, the whole telework program is scrapped and everyone is required to return to the office. The employee, who never had to disclose and request an accommodation, now asks for a policy modification that allows him to continue to work from home. The new management considers his request and finds no hardship in allowing him to continue to telework.

If you or someone you know needs more individualized assistance with job accommodations, contact JAN directly. Our services are free and confidential.

Additional Resources:

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Mental Health Month
NAMI – StigmaFree
Mayo Clinic – Mental Illness
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
NIMH – Mental Health Information

 

Do-It-Yourself Accommodations

Posted by Kim Cordingly on April 20, 2017 under Accommodations, Employers, Products / Technology | Comments are off for this article

By: Matthew McCord, Consultant – Motor Team

Back in 2014, Elisabeth Simpson wrote a Blog post on low cost accommodation solutions. Three years have passed since then, and I think it is time to revisit this subject and provide you all with some additional options to keep in your toolkit. However, this post will focus more on Do-It-Yourself style accommodations. So, if you are one to enjoy rolling up your sleeves and tackling accommodation needs directly rather than purchasing a product, then this Blog article is for you. Even if you aren’t a hands-on kind of person, some of these options may still be helpful.

To begin, I think it is best to lay down the rules of what this Blog is about. Have you ever looked into accommodation options and thought, “I am sure you could make this yourself and it would be much cheaper to do so?” If so, that is the question that drives this Blog. Some of you may be worrying that the following may be a little out of your depth, so let me assure you, it is certainly possible that you have done more complex projects of your own than what I will be giving you below.

First, let’s start simple. Have you ever looked into height adjustable table legs as an accommodation option? Well, if you do not need the ability to periodically adjust from sitting to standing height, you can increase the height of a desk by lifting it up and placing the legs on cinder blocks or bricks. You can similarly lower a desk by removing the legs entirely and placing it on cinder blocks to achieve the height needed.

Next, let’s go for a little more complex option. Sit/stand workstations are a very common accommodation request and I often point out our vendor listing for monitor risers as a solution for those needs. However, you can achieve the same results by stacking some phone books up to the appropriate height and then placing a second monitor on top of them. To make that monitor usable, you will need to raise up a keyboard tray to place a second keyboard and mouse on. You could also use the same keyboard and mouse for both monitors, but depending on individual needs, it may be best to get another set rather than constantly moving things around. To make such a tray, you can use a shelving insert from an old bookshelf for instance. You can also look into using pink board, which can be purchased from building supply stores, if no empty bookshelves are readily available. If you are concerned about towers of phone books toppling over, then you can bind them together using duct tape. As a bonus, you can also create a footrest out of old phonebooks that are bound together in the same manner.

On the topic of desks and computers, spare binder clips can be used to help organize electronic device wiring. This can be helpful for IT employees with vision impairments to quickly locate the needed wires. An additional step that can be helpful here is using a strip of scotch tape and labeling each wire by writing on the tape and then sticking it on the binder clip or using some tactile dots and markers as an alternative method of labelling depending on severity of the individual’s visual impairment. This will provide the added benefit of making an otherwise incomprehensible mass of wires tidier as well!

In the spirit of keeping things organized, this next idea can be very helpful for people with memory limitations. If you have an employee with such issues who often leaves keys laying around, you can use a carabiner to keep multiple sets of keys together and allow the employee to clip them directly on their clothing via belt loops. This is a practice that I learned from my father. As a custodian for a school, he needed to carry around a bunch of keys and this was how he kept track of them all.

This last option will be the only one that involves the use of power tools. Let’s say you are looking into options for an employee with pain and cramping in the wrist and hands from all the writing they need to do. This can be a big problem for people with carpal tunnel syndrome. A simple way to help with this is to measure the writing utensil being used (pens, pencil, and whiteboard markers are all common targets for this), and then use a power drill a make a hole through a tennis ball just big enough to fit the utensil through it. Now, the employee can hold onto the ball instead of the pen, pencil, or marker and put less pressure on the wrist to hold it. If you are one to shy away from using power tools, or simply do not own them, there are similar styles of writing aids available to purchase directly from vendors.

I know it is an impulse to immediately think of purchasing something when accommodations are requested. Sometimes this is the only real option. However, I hope this Blog has helped to give you some brain food on what we can do to help accommodate our employees and even ourselves with a little ingenuity. A bit of elbow grease and out of the box thinking can go a long way!

JAN Goes West to CSUN

Posted by Kim Cordingly on April 12, 2017 under Accommodations, Employers, Events, Products / Technology, Vendors | Comments are off for this article

By: Lisa Mathess, Senior Consultant — Motor Team

JAN was lucky enough to travel to sunny California at the beginning of March to present and exhibit at the 32nd Annual CSUN Assistive Technology Conference. JAN has had a presence at this conference consistently for the past 10 years. The exhibit hall held more than 120 exhibitors displaying new and upcoming assistive technologies (AT), along with vendors promoting new improvements on existing products. The JAN booth was buzzing with traffic from service providers, instructors, and individuals with disabilities who all were pleasantly surprised to learn about JAN’s mission and services, especially that they are free! We were also greeted by loyal JAN fans that just stopped by to say, “Hi — glad to see you are here!”

JAN consultants gave two presentations at the conference – the first on accommodating employees with disabilities in a healthcare setting and the second on accommodating educational professionals with AT. If you would like to view corresponding publications on these topics, please see JAN’s Accommodation Ideas by Occupation or Industry.

In between exhibiting and presenting, I managed to find some time to attend some other sessions focusing on accommodations within the Federal government. It is always interesting to see how others implement their accommodation programs and make effective accommodations for their employees. Although the Federal sector is technically covered under the Rehabilitation Act, the same principles apply as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which applies to private employers. The Federal sector strives to be a model employer, so often they are held to higher standards than the ADA would require. It’s also satisfying that during their sessions, these Federal agencies recommended JAN as a resource for accommodation solutions and ADA compliance. For more info, please see Federal Employment of People with Disabilities. Another useful accommodation resource available to some Federal departments is the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP) located at the Department of Defense (DoD). CAP’s mission is “to provide assistive technology and accommodations to support individuals with disabilities and wounded, ill and injured Service members throughout the Federal Government in accessing information and communication technology.”

If you have questions about the JAN presentations at CSUN or want more information on accommodations, please feel free to speak with a JAN consultant at (800) 526-7234 (Voice), (877) 781-9403 (TTY), or visit us online at AskJAN.org.

New Technology Grabs Consultant’s Attention

Posted by Kim Cordingly on February 23, 2017 under Accommodations, Employers, Events, Organizations, Products / Technology | Comments are off for this article

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

Returning to work this week after traveling to the 54th Annual LDA (Learning Disabilities Association of America) International Conference in Baltimore, MD, I just had to get the word out about a new product that about blew my socks off – QuietOn.

QuietOn is a “one-of-a-kind earplug combining active noise cancellation and acoustic noise attenuation to create silence.”

Innumerable people contact JAN for assistance on how to handle auditory distractions in the workplace. Depending on the work environment and individual customer’s situation, JAN can suggest a variety of potential solutions. One of these options is to wear a noise-cancelling headset. However, one potential problem with these headsets for some people with noise sensitivity is their size and weight – this makes it difficult for them to comfortably use. Another issue is that wearing a headset can set an employee apart from others in the workplace. The QuietOn earplugs are much more unobtrusive while offering many of the same benefits as the larger headphones.

So take a look at this new product and determine if it might be the right solution for you or someone you know who may need an accommodation for auditory distractions in the workplace.

Our JAN Website also offers various publications on learning disabilities (LD), as well as other ideas on how to accommodate, reduce, and/or remove auditory distractions in the various work environments.

For Additional Resources:

Accommodation Ideas for Learning Disabilities
Accommodating Employees with Learning Disabilities
Learning Disabilities Association of America

What Are the JAN Consultants Reading (or Watching)?

Posted by Kim Cordingly on January 26, 2017 under Accommodations, ADAAA, Entrepreneurship / Self Employment, JAN News, Products / Technology | Comments are off for this article

Melanie Whetzel, Lead Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team

Just last month, I finished reading Very Late Diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome (Autism Spectrum Disorder) — How Seeking a Diagnosis in Adulthood Can Change Your Life by Philip Wylie. What a wealth of information!

As the title suggests, this guidebook focuses on very late diagnosis of autism, what is involved, what has led up to the diagnosis, and how to cope with it.  Included are chapters entitled “The Advantages and Disadvantages of Diagnosis,” “Common Reactions to Very Late Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder,” “The ‘Coming Out’ Process,” and “How to Live Well with Very Late Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Information also encompasses co-existing mental health impairments, available supports, and strategies to help newly diagnosed individuals move forward.

At JAN, we receive inquiries from many older individuals who either suspect that they have autism, or have obtained a recent diagnosis. Sometimes they just aren’t sure what to do. I believe I now have a better understanding of the process people have gone through, what their concerns are certain to be, and how we can best assist them.

The next one on my list is Women and Girls with Autism Spectrum Disorder Understanding Life Experiences from Early Childhood to Old Age by Sarah Hendrickx.

Sarah Small, Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team

I recently read an article in Counseling Today titled Reconsidering ADHD by Laurie Meyers. She talks about how historically the stereotype for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has been a young child who cannot sit still or pay attention and often gets in trouble. However, in reality ADHD can affect anyone and manifest at different stages in life. This means that sometimes an individual may not receive an actual diagnosis until they are in adulthood. She states that ADHD can often be hard to diagnose as it can also resemble other mental health impairments.

She goes on to discuss that even though there is still a lot to learn about ADHD, researchers tend to believe it is a cognitive impairment that affects the brain’s executive functioning. This can cause issues with concentration, hyperactivity, impulsivity, and other signature qualities associated with the condition. Laurie breaks down her article by looking at some challenges associated with childhood, high school to college transition, and adulthood. Throughout, she shares information from a variety of counselors and their personal experiences working with clients who have ADHD and some concepts and techniques that can help individuals adapt and cope.

I was intrigued by this article because as a member of the cognitive/neurological team here at JAN I frequently receive calls regarding ADHD and accommodations. We typically see the condition and how it affects adults at work, so it was interesting to read some perspectives on how it also affects individuals during childhood and school years. It was a good reminder that no diagnosis has a cookie cutter effect.

Matthew McCord, Consultant – Mobility Team

I recently watched a video on Youtube video by Extra Credits titled, Because Games Matter – A Better Vision.

In this video, the Extra Credits team details the story of a young woman named Sara Winters who was born with ocular albinism. This rare vision disorder caused her to have a visual acuity of 20/200, making her legally blind. However, her ophthalmologist made the suggestion that she play video games as a form of therapy to help her eye sight improve. I found this video interesting not only as someone who considers himself a gamer, but also because it illustrates the importance of keeping an open mind to unconventional solutions to problems. For Sara, game therapy helped her brain understand the limited information her eyes could gather and her visional acuity improved to 20/100. Sara’s testimony illustrates that even unorthodox options can be effective, and when it comes to reasonable accommodation options, being effective is what really matters.

Tracie DeFreitas, Lead Consultant — ADA Specialist

As a self-proclaimed ADA geek, I gravitate toward literature and on-line resources that analyze timely and complex ADA and FMLA issues. I know, that sounds riveting, right? But, it can be. New workplace challenges develop every day with each unique disability employment related situation. Reading about recent employment cases and perspectives on enforcement agency guidances and activities satisfies my inner nerd, and also enables me to offer JAN customers useful information to support their ADA and FMLA compliance efforts. There are a number of go-to resources for ADA and FMLA information, including Bloomberg BNA’s Labor & Employment Law Resource Center and the National Employment Law Institute’s publication, Resolving ADA Workplace Questions, but for weekly content, I’ve been reading a couple of trusted legal blogs. For example, I subscribe to the Disability, Leave & Health Management blog published by the law firm, Jackson Lewis. This blog addresses some of the more difficult legal and practical issues employers face when managing disability, attendance, and leave, among other issues. Another favorite blog is FMLA Insights authored by Jeff Nowak, co-chair of Franczek Radelet’s Labor and Employment Practice. FMLA Insights provides insight and analysis on the FMLA, ADA, and similar employment legislation and was selected as one of the Top 100 Legal Blogs of 2016 by the ABA Journal. Both blogs are excellent resources for practical compliance advice on ADA and FMLA issues.

Kim Cordingly, Lead Consultant – Self-Employment Team

My academic background is in economic geography, so I’m currently reading a book by Maureen Molloy and Wendy Larner entitled Fashioning Globalisation: New Zealand Design, Working Women, and the Cultural Economy. At first glance, this book may appear to have little to do with individuals with disabilities starting small businesses. However, I’ve been thinking about how their theoretical framework and research can help us better understand the experiences of women entrepreneurs with disabilities in a U.S. context. Malloy and Larner describe their project in this way: “The book is an attempt to rethink the relationship between changes in the global cultural economy over the past 20 years and changes in middle-class women’s working lives through the exemplary case of the New Zealand designer fashion industry.” At JAN, we are often contacted by individuals with disabilities who fit into the category of “independent artisans,” participating in their creative and local economy. Organizations such as the Women’s Rural Entrepreneurial Network (WREN) in New Hampshire are an example of how entrepreneurial networks can promote and support local women owned businesses that fit into this category. All areas of the U.S. are undergoing distinct economic shifts that affect women’s livelihoods in varied ways. For women with disabilities who pursue self-employment or starting businesses, they are deeply affected by these changes — in terms of the type of businesses they choose to start, what types of networks can support these businesses, and how they think of themselves in their role as a business owner. Work in geography addresses these intersections and how place, space and scale help us better understand women’s experiences in this evolving economic landscape.

Beth Loy, Principal Consultant

Q&A with Damian Sian, Senior Web Accessibility Advisor for Princeton University

Recently I read an article by Damian Sian, who works as the Senior Web Accessibility Advisor for Princeton University. Sian talked about how he got into the accessibility field and the experience he brought from his marketing and test development background. He mentioned two interesting points in his interview that we also find important and challenging at the Job Accommodation Network. First, he discussed the difficulty of making mathematical representations of data accessible. Second, he talked about the importance of collaboration. This article reminds us that the field of accessibility will make great strides if organizations work together to solve accessibility challenges.

Teresa Goddard, Lead Consultant – Sensory Team

A key part of a JAN consultant’s job is finding new and easier ways to do the simple ordinary tasks that most of us take for granted. One of my very first calls here at the Job Accommodation Network involved a question about an intern with limited use of one hand, who was having trouble tying off garbage bags. While it was a small part of the job, the intern wanted to be able to do it independently. A therapist who was working with the young woman called me, a brand-new consultant, looking for a device designed to close garbage bags with one hand. I couldn’t find anything like that in the JAN database. I asked if I could call her back and made my way down the hall to talk to the most knowledgeable product guru I could find, an experienced consultant named Eddie.  He listened to the whole story with a quizzical expression, raised his eyebrows and said one simple word, “tape.”  He went on to explain how to precut and preset pieces of tape for ease of use with one hand.

Eddie’s lesson in looking for simple easy solutions has led me to look at everyday objects in a new way. Although I now take primarily sensory related calls here at JAN, I still like to look at the pencils, tape, and stacks of books on my desk with an eye to how they can be used as an accommodation. I like to read about new uses for household items as well. This has led to a fascination with how-to books. I recently picked up a second hand copy of Reader’s Digest Practical Problem Solver, which has a lengthy section called “Common Things with Uncommon Uses.” This consists of an alphabetized list of ordinary things like scarves, socks, and shower curtains that can be used in unexpected ways to simplify your life. There are 17 uses for tape listed. It may not be a lofty book, but it is jam-packed with ideas that I had never even considered.  Did you know that wearing rubber gloves over your gardening gloves can keep your hands extra warm and dry on cold damp mornings?  It is a simple idea that I will be passing on to my callers with temperature sensitivity. Do you have how-to books collecting dust on your bookshelf? Pick one up!

Linda Batiste, Principal Consultant

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that enforces the employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), has been cranking out a lot of information in past few months, including some very important ADA-related documents. We use EEOC guidance every day in our work at JAN so I made time to read everything the EEOC published. For employers, the information provided in these documents can be extremely useful.

One of the most important documents is EEOC Enforcement Guidance on Retaliation and Related Issues, which explains the EEOC’s interpretation of what constitutes retaliation. According to the EEOC, retaliation is the most frequently alleged basis of discrimination so this should be a must-read for employers. In addition to retaliation, there’s something called interference under the ADA, which can occur with just one careless sentence from a supervisor. The EEOC’s publication provides the following example:

An employee requests an accommodation. In response, her supervisor tells her that she must try taking medication first or her request will not be considered. This is interference with the employee’s exercise of her rights in violation of the ADA.

Toward the end of the document, the EEOC provides promising practices for employers who want to reduce the likelihood of a retaliation or interference claim against them. The document is pretty long, but there are also a couple shorter, summary documents if you’re not inclined to read the larger document: Questions and Answers: Enforcement Guidance on Retaliation and Related Issues and Small Business Fact Sheet.

In addition to the retaliation document, the other documents the EEOC recently published include:

Proposed Enforcement Guidance on Unlawful Harassment, which is another serious problem for employers. If you want to review this document and comment on it, you have until Feb. 9, 2017.

For federal agencies, there are new regulations related to their affirmative action obligations for employees with disabilities, along with a shorter question and answer document.

The EEOC also publishes information for individuals with disabilities. The most recent document is called Depression, PTSD, & Other Mental Health Conditions in the Workplace: Your Legal Rights.

If you haven’t reviewed any of these documents, you might want to take a look at them – it’s a good way to pass the time on a cold winter day – or if you need information related to any of these topics, you can always give JAN a call!

Disclosure Basics

Posted by Kim Cordingly on November 10, 2016 under Accommodations, ADAAA, Employers, Products / Technology | Comments are off for this article

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

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) celebrated its 26th anniversary this past July. This legislation is purposed to improve the lives of people with disabilities by protecting their rights to have access to employment, public entities, transportation, public accommodations and commercial facilities, telecommunications and more. It helps people with disabilities compete equally for employment and receive the accommodations and protections they need to work.

Are you in need of reasonable accommodations in the workplace due to a disability? Do you know what steps to take in order to get the process started? Disclosure is the first and sometimes the most difficult step. Just thinking about this can often cause anxiety and stress. So what exactly is disclosure?

Disclosure is divulging or giving out personal information about a disability. It is important for the employee to provide information about the nature of the disability, the limitations involved, and how the disability affects the ability to learn and/or perform the job effectively. The employer has a right to know if a disability is involved when an employee asks for accommodations.  Ideally, employees will disclose a disability and request accommodations before performance problems arise, or at least before they become too serious.

Let’s look at three main reasons why someone with a disability may choose to disclose a disability to their employer:

1). To ask for job accommodations. As an example, a bus garage employee with a reading disability missed instructions and important announcements that were sent via e-mail. As an accommodation, he requested screen reading software that allows text to be converted into computer synthesized speech.

2). To receive benefits or privileges of employment. The ADA requires employers to provide accommodations so that employees with disabilities can enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment equal to those enjoyed by similarly-situated employees without disabilities. Benefits and privileges of employment include employer-sponsored training, access to cafeterias, lounges, gymnasiums, auditoriums, transportation, and parties or other social functions. For example, an employee with Down syndrome signed up for a nutrition class, but had trouble understanding the information that was presented. His employer asked the instructor to provide pictures of the types of food she was recommending employees eat. The employee was able to use these pictures when making food choices.

3). To explain an unusual circumstance.  For instance, someone with temperature sensitivities due to multiple sclerosis (MS) may need to explain to his employer why it would be helpful to work from home while the office air conditioner is being repaired.

Disclosure can be quite simple. You can tell your employer that you need to talk about an adjustment or change that is essential for a reason related to a medical condition. You may use plain English to request an accommodation. You do not have to mention the ADA nor use the phrase “reasonable accommodation.” It can be as easy as saying to your supervisor, “I need to talk to you about the difficulty I encounter when I try to hand write notes due to a medical condition.”

Questions about disclosure? Contact JAN for more information or to discuss an accommodation situation with a consultant.

Resources:

JAN Topic — Disclosure

The ADA in 2016

JAN ADA Library

Common Questions about Providing Equipment as an Accommodation

Posted by Kim Cordingly on July 15, 2016 under Accommodations, Employers, Products / Technology, Veterans Issues | Comments are off for this article

By: Elisabeth Simpson, Lead Consultant – Motor Team

As the Lead Consultant for the Motor Team, I am asked questions daily about the provision of equipment as an accommodation. Employers, individuals, and even rehabilitation professionals often ask if JAN provides equipment, who is responsible for buying equipment, and what resources are available to the employer if the cost of a piece of equipment would be an undue hardship.

Let’s start with the easy question first: Does JAN provide equipment? The answer is pretty simple. We do not provide or supply any type of equipment, technology, etc. Additionally, JAN does not offer on-site evaluations or worksite assessments of any type. We are limited, in a way, to providing assistance and guidance from a distance, but have developed an extensive product and vendor database for this reason. JAN consultants are trained to ask questions that help us better understand the work environment so we are able to offer accommodation ideas that are effective. When possible, we can direct you to where a piece of equipment or product can be purchased or even offer a variety of options for you to choose as the accommodation.

As for questions related to who is responsible for buying equipment — the EEOC has indicated that the employer is ultimately responsible for providing work-related equipment or devices as an accommodation, absent undue hardship. In some cases, an employee may be working with vocational rehabilitation services (VR) and the cost could be shared. In other cases, the employer can choose a less expensive accommodation as long as the alternative option selected is effective. In general, when an employer purchases a piece of equipment it is then owned by that employer. In situations where the cost is shared, it is important that a discussion take place as part of the interactive process so there will be a plan for what will happen with the equipment if/when the employee no longer needs it or no longer works for the employer.

Resources may be available for some employers to help with the cost of providing equipment as an accommodation. Tax credits could be taken advantage of if the employer qualifies or if the employee is part of a targeted group. Additional information about various tax incentives are available on JAN’s Website. Federal employers may be able to take advantage of the services offered by the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP), which provides assistive technology and services to people with disabilities, Federal managers, supervisors, and IT professionals. Employees may be able to receive funding for assistive technology from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (if veterans or service members); the Social Security Administration’s Plan To Achieve Self-Support (PASS) and other work incentives; non-profit disability organizations; and civic or service organizations (Lions Club, VFW, Rotary Club, etc.). Employers can also look into state workers’ compensation programs if the disability was caused by a work-related injury.

At the end of the day, it is important to remember that while there may be a cost associated with purchasing a piece of equipment, there are many options available for employers to consider when this is the accommodation being provided. Additionally, the EEOC has offered guidance on how to determine undue hardship and JAN consultants on all teams are ready and willing to discuss options with you!

Additional Resources:

Workplace Accommodations: Low Cost, High Impact

JAN ADA Library

State Assistive Technology Projects

JAN Searchable Online Accommodation Resource