Don’t Break the Bank in 2014 — Low Cost Accommodations Do Exist!

Posted by Kim Cordingly on January 24, 2014 under Accommodations, Employers, Products / Technology | Comments are off for this article

By: Elisabeth Simpson, Senior Consultant – Motor Team

What do tennis balls, a headlamp, and curtains all have in common? They can all be used as a reasonable accommodation in the workplace. But wait — how can that be? Aren’t all accommodations expensive and high tech? In actuality, many accommodation solutions can be considered “low tech,” and according to an ongoing study conducted by JAN since 2004, employers report that a 58 percent of accommodations cost absolutely nothing to make, while the rest typically cost only $500.

A common misconception about accommodations is that products and equipment that have been developed to assist individuals with disabilities with various activities, including those that are work related, are expensive, high-end electronics and technology. It is not uncommon for employers to ask about a high cost device before considering low cost/low tech options or simple modifications that work just as well.

It is important to note that some types of assistive technology (AT) that are more expensive may be necessary. The type of equipment, product, or AT that an employee with a disability needs (or has requested) will always be a case-by-case determination. But one thing for employers to consider is that, in some cases, something as simple as putting curtains up to reduce glare on a computer monitor for an employee with migraine headaches is much less complicated than searching for the best anti-glare computer monitor on the market.

Here are a few real-life JAN examples of low cost accommodation solutions:

A clerical worker who stamped paperwork for several hours a day was limited in pinching and gripping due to carpal tunnel syndrome. The individual was accommodated with adapted stamp handles. Anti-vibration wrap was placed around the stamp handles. In addition, tennis balls were cut and placed over the wrapped handles to eliminate fine motor pinching and gripping.

A production worker with intellectual or cognitive impairment and cerebral palsy had difficulty grasping a plastic bottle to accurately apply an adhesive label. JAN suggested making a wooden jig to hold the bottle while the employee applies the label. Approximate accommodation cost was under $50.

A grocery stock person with autism could not remember to wear all parts of his uniform. JAN suggested taking a picture of the employee in full uniform, giving him the picture, and allowing him to use the picture as reference when preparing for work. Approximate accommodation cost is $5.

A custodian with low vision in a public school setting was having difficulty viewing the carpeted area he was vacuuming. A lighting system was mounted on the custodian’s industrial vacuum cleaner, and the custodian was provided a headlamp.

As these examples show, often accommodations are low cost, low tech, and can be implemented fairly easily. Workspace modifications can be made at little to no cost and there are all kinds of inexpensive devices on the market. Accommodations might also include a specially designed or modified product, but customization doesn’t always translate into high cost. Removing the legs of a computer desk can be a very low cost custom modification for an individual of short stature.

JAN consultants can provide individualized case-by-case assistance regarding various accommodation options; information on products; organizational referrals; and locating specific vendors of a wide variety of low cost and low tech accommodations.

For onsite assistance, rehabilitation professionals and assistive technology specialists can be great resources for employers. These individuals have been specifically trained to perform assessments that identify the individual’s needs; strengths and abilities; environmental consideration; tasks that are problematic; and the tools necessary for success.

So remember, before jumping to the conclusion that an accommodation will break the bank, low cost accommodations do exist! If you are wanting to learn more about the JAN study and the various findings related to the costs and benefits of providing accommodations in the workplace, you can review the JAN Accommodation and Compliance Series Workplace Accommodations: Low Cost, High Impact.

Scents and Sensitivity in the Workplace

Posted by Kim Cordingly on November 26, 2013 under Accommodations, Employers, Products / Technology, Uncategorized | Comments are off for this article

By: Tracie DeFreitas, Lead Consultant

When we talk about making facilities accessible and useable as a type of accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), most people don’t necessarily think about invisible barriers that may be in the air. They may think about more obvious physical barriers like stairs leading to an entrance, narrow doorways, or inaccessible restrooms. However, for some people, irritants like fragrances, deodorizers, scented candles, and other chemicals in the air can be as much an access barrier as a missing ramp or inoperative elevator. People with asthma, allergies, or other respiratory disorders may be more susceptible to the effects of these irritants at levels that are much lower than what might cause problems for those in the general population.

In particular, exposure to fragranced products can make it difficult for some employees to function effectively at work. JAN Consultants talk to employers who are trying to accommodate employees who report fragrance sensitivity. Fragrance sensitivity is either an irritation or an allergic reaction to some chemical or combination of chemicals in a product. Although perfumes and colognes are generally what come to mind, fragrance is commonly added to a variety of daily use items like toiletries, cosmetics, air fresheners, laundry soaps and softeners, and cleaning products. People with fragrance sensitivity often experience symptoms such as breathing difficulties: wheezing, a tight feeling in the chest, or worsening of asthma symptoms; headaches; nausea; hives and other skin irritations; and limitations in memory and concentration.

Situations involving fragrance or scent sensitivity can be a little complicated because accommodations sometimes impact others in the work environment. For example, some employers have implemented workplace policies or made requests that all employees refrain from wearing and using scented products in the workplace. While a 100% fragrance-free environment may not be reasonable, an employer may still take measures to reduce exposure to such irritants. It becomes an issue of fragrance-use awareness. As with any accommodation situation, it is up to the employer to determine what is reasonable with regard to the type of accommodation(s) that can be implemented. JAN offers a number of accommodation solutions that may help:

  • Reduce exposure to scented products by asking employees to be conscious of their choice of products (opt for non-scented) and to refrain from wearing fragrances and colognes to the workplace
  • Move the employee’s workstation away from co-workers who use heavily scented products, fragrances, etc.
  • Do not situate the employee’s workstation near areas of heavy foot traffic or congregation (i.e., break room, restroom, elevator area)
  • Provide an enclosed workspace
  • Provide an air cleaner of the right size to effectively clean the space (i.e., select a model sufficient for gaseous filtration) and make sure the HVAC system is working properly
  • Provide a desk fan
  • Allow a flexible work schedule so the employee who is sensitive can work when fewer people are in the building
  • Allow the employee to wear a mask (e.g., http://www.icanbreathe.com/favorite.htm)
  • Allow breaks to take medication or get fresh air
  • Allow telework
  • Implement and enforce a fragrance-free policy

For additional information regarding accommodation ideas for people who are sensitive to fragrances, see JAN’s publication Employees with Fragrance Sensitivity or contact JAN to speak with a consultant.

JAN Guest Interview: Dinah Cohen, Director of the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP), U.S. Department of Defense

Posted by Kim Cordingly on July 16, 2013 under Accommodations, Employers, Products / Technology, Veterans Issues | Comments are off for this article

Dinah Cohen is the Director of the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP) at the U.S. Department of Defense. Ms. Cohen works closely with senior leadership throughout the Federal sector to ensure employees, beneficiaries, and members of the public with disabilities have equal access to Federal services and employment. Ms. Cohen also initiated a program to provide assistive technology and accommodation support to wounded service members to aid in their rehabilitation and recovery process.

Dr. Beth Loy, a Principal Consultant at JAN,  had the privilege of interviewing Ms. Cohen this month about the mission of the CAP program, the importance of making effective accommodations in the Federal sector, and their role in ensuring people with disabilities have equal access to Federal employment opportunities.

Can you talk about CAP, its mission, and how CAP’s mission has changed over the last few years?

The Department of Defense (DoD) established the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP) to eliminate employment barriers for people with disabilities.  CAP’s mission, since its inception in 1990, is to provide assistive technology and accommodations to ensure people with disabilities and wounded Services members have equal access to the information environment and opportunities in the DoD and throughout the Federal Government.

CAP has expanded beyond the DoD to partner with 68 federal agencies making it the largest provider of reasonable accommodations in the world.  The program’s vision is to increase employment of people with disabilities and disabled veterans by ensuring they have access to accommodations throughout the DoD and Federal Government.

Since 9/11, we are seeing more disabled veterans returning to the workplace as civilians with a range of disabling conditions. They are tech-savvy and are ready to work. The assistive technology options still lag behind the general technology changes. 

What do you feel is the most important change you have seen in the field of assistive technology since being the Director of CAP?

I have noticed there are more assistive technology solutions and successful integration of the technologies that can address the needs of individuals with multiple disabling conditions. Next, the cost of accommodations has gone down and I have noticed there are more embedded solutions in the operating systems and general applications and tools. Since the baby boomers are getting older, the market for enhancements and some accommodations are being required by a larger number of individuals.

 For individuals who are reluctant to ask for modifications on the job, what can CAP do to support them?

I believe if the individual is armed with the information of their assistive technology needs AND the FREE price tag, they would be more comfortable requesting the accommodation solution. Most individuals are hesitate to bring the accommodation conversation to managers IF they think it will add a cost factor to the decision for employment OR they are not sure what would work. The employee should be familiar with their accommodation solutions to help with this conversation

 What trends do you think will occur in the near future in the field of assistive technology?

The new mobile environment has provided flexibility and user-friendly solutions to many individuals with disabilities via lots of free apps and embedded technologies. There will always be a need for some assistive technology solutions to support an individual in the workplace. We need employers to consider the needs of their employees with disabilities as they move forward on their strategic plans for the company/agency’s information environment and enterprise solutions. More and more able-body and people with disabilities want to have a flexible work environment and telework. Unless we are looking on how to provide the right tools for EVERYBODY and have a secure and flexible information environment, we will miss the opportunity of being the employer of choice.

Can you give an example of a situation involving an individual who came to CAP, received assistive technologies, and was successful in implementing the technologies at work?

We have over 100,000 stories on how we have provided accommodations and how the individual has used it in the workplace. I encourage your readers to go to the CAP website and see the videos of the technologies and to YouTube to hear the testimonial of our customers and how they are using the technology in the work place at www.cap.mil.

Anything else…

I encourage your readers to visit our Website, download the CAP APP, be a CAP Fan and continue to work with CAP and JAN to improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities and wounded Service members.