Shining a Light on Sun Safety

Posted by Kim Cordingly on May 25, 2017 under Accommodations, Employers, Organizations, Products / Technology | Be the First to Comment

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 | Be the First to Comment

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 | Be the First to Comment

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.

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.

A Summary of the Section 501 Final Rule on Affirmative Action

Posted by Kim Cordingly on April 5, 2017 under Accommodations, ADAAA, Employers | Comments are off for this article

By: Tracie DeFreitas, Lead Consultant – ADA Specialist

JAN recently offered the first Federal Employer Winter Webcast Binge-a-thon — a three-hour Webcast for the federal workforce about job accommodation resources and solutions and compliance with Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act, hosted by expert guest speakers from JAN and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The Binge-a-thon kicked-off with an overview of the EEOC’s January 2017 final rule to amend the regulations implementing Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act, presented by Aaron Konopasky, Senior Attorney Advisor in the ADA/GINA Policy Division at the EEOC. The Rule requires agencies of the federal government to adopt employment goals for individuals with disabilities, with sub-goals for individuals with targeted disabilities, to provide personal assistance services (PAS) to certain employees who need these services because of a disability, and to meet a number of other requirements designed to improve the recruitment, hiring, retention, and advancement of individuals with disabilities in the federal workforce.

The final Rule clarifies the affirmative action requirements of Section 501. To comply with the requirements, federal agencies must develop affirmative action plans and take action to increase the employment of individuals with disabilities, and must also provide PAS to employees with targeted disabilities for work-related reasons. The final Rule gives agencies until January 3, 2018, to make changes to policy, staff, and other operations in order to meet the new requirements. Among the affirmative action and PAS requirements, the Rule also codifies various obligations placed on federal agencies by past management directives and Executive Orders, to bring all of the requirements together under one Rule.

JAN Consultants do provide information and guidance regarding the requirements of Section 501. Like many federal sector employers, our Consultants are learning as much as we can about these new regulations so that we can better assist our customers with their questions. For commonly asked questions about the Rule, see The EEOC’s Final Rule on Affirmative Action for People with Disabilities in Federal Employment. The following bullet points offer a high-level summary of some of the Rule’s requirements:

  • Affirmative Action: Federal agencies are required to adopt and implement an Affirmative Action Plan for recruiting, hiring, employing, and advancing individuals with disabilities at all levels of federal employment. The Plan is to be submitted annually to the EEOC. The Plan shall require a commitment to achieve the goal of employing 12% of individuals with disabilities at the GS-11 level and above; 12% at the GS-10 level and below; and 2% who have targeted disabilities, above and below these GS levels. Targeted disabilities are those that fall into a subset of those impairments that meet the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) definition of disability, and are designated on the Office of Personnel Management’s SF-256 Self-Identification Form. Affirmative Action Plans are to be posted on each agency’s public Website.
  • Record Keeping: The Rule imposes new record keeping requirements. Federal agencies must keep track of the number of applications received from individuals with disabilities (IWDs) and the number hired; the number of applications received from IWDs with targeted disabilities and the number hired; all job offer rescissions based on medical examinations or medical inquiries; the number of Schedule A appointees; and details regarding all requests for reasonable accommodation. This information must be made available to the EEOC upon request.
  • Personal Assistance Services (PAS) as Affirmative Action Requirement: Lack of PAS or fear of losing PAS have been identified as barriers to employment for individuals with some targeted disabilities. The Rule requires federal agencies, as an aspect of affirmative action, to provide PAS to employees who need these services due to a targeted disability, barring undue hardship. PAS are non-medical services that help individuals with disabilities perform activities of daily living, like eating, using the restroom, taking-off a coat, etc. PAS may be assigned during work hours and job-related travel. Agencies may hire an employee or independent contractor to provide PAS, and may provide one-to-one services or hire a pool of PAS providers to serve multiple employees with disabilities. When services are provided one-to-one to a single individual, agencies should give primary consideration to the preferences of the individual. Federal agencies are required to have a written process for employees to request PAS, or may include a PAS process in a formal reasonable accommodation procedure.
  • Notification about Reasonable Accommodation Policies and Procedures: The Rule makes clear that federal agencies must have written, easily available and understood reasonable accommodation procedures, available to applicants and employees in written and accessible formats. These procedures must be available on each agency’s public Website.
  • Interim Accommodations: When the facts and circumstances known to an agency make it reasonably likely that an employee requesting accommodation will be entitled to it, but the accommodation cannot be provided immediately, then the agency is expected to provide interim accommodations that will enable the performance of some or all of the essential functions of the employee’s job, barring undue hardship.
  • Reassignment as Accommodation: Federal agencies must consider reassignment to a vacant position as a reasonable accommodation when no other accommodation will enable an employee with a disability to perform the essential functions of the current position.
  • Denial of Reasonable Accommodation: When accommodations are denied, federal agencies must provide the job applicant or employee with a written explanation that includes a reason for the denial, remedies for internal appeal or alternative dispute resolution, and instructions and the timeframe (45 days) for filing a complaint of discrimination with the agency’s EEO Counselor. This notice must be made available in accessible formats.

For more information about affirmative action and workplace discrimination laws, regulations, and Executive Orders that apply to federal agencies, see the EEOC website for the Federal Sector. For information about reasonable accommodation obligations, please contact JAN to speak with a Consultant, or go to 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

Guest Blog: Innovative Approaches — An Interview with the Owners of Picasso Einstein

Posted by Kim Cordingly on January 27, 2017 under Accommodations, Entrepreneurship / Self Employment, Organizations | Comments are off for this article

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 Boaz and Minerva Santiago – the founders of Picasso Einstein about their efforts to promote and support viable self-employment opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities.

1. Can you tell us about yourself, your background, and what inspired you and your wife to start Picasso Einstein?

First off, at home, my wife and I are truly like Picasso and Einstein, although that is not how the name of the company came about. My wife, a special needs planning attorney (clearly Einstein) is very analytical; a planner. Whereas, with my psychology background and love for technology, I tend to be more “free-spirited” if you will; or Picasso-like. When my wife and I married, I was doing what I had loved doing for many years, teaching social entrepreneurship to at-risk youth. My wife said to me one day, “you know, the boys (our two boys with autism) are ‘at-risk’ too.” I was in total agreement. She had been witness, by way of her profession, to way too many families whom had adult children with developmental disabilities with no real employment plans for either the immediate or long-term future. My wife, in her infinite wisdom, as she perceived the future of her own children, knew that both boys, due to their autism, would also struggle with traditional employment; particularly our older son, who is mostly non-verbal and experiences seizures. So we asked ourselves, “If they cannot find regular work, what will they be doing when we are gone?” We had to do something about that question and we both knew that self-employment would be a great place to start. Even though we were unsure if they would actually grow up to be self-employed, we were convinced that we could use a small business venture to teach them all of the things they would have to know whether self-employed or traditionally employed, like workmanship, financial literacy, business basics, communication, community (the business kind) and so much more. And even better, we could get started NOW, even though they were only 10 and 12 years old. So we did just that; we got busy doing something about it!

2. Can you talk a bit about the process you underwent starting your company/organization?

During my years teaching social entrepreneurship, I had written a curriculum that I often used as part of the program delivery. So, my wife and I decided to amend the curriculum to be more attuned to the needs of an at-risk youth due to his/her disability. As we began to think about this venture and our two boys, it led us to the name Picasso Einstein. Why? Because they are two incredibly eccentric boys, that despite their obvious limitations, are incredibly brilliant and artistic in their own unique way. Honestly, both of them are what we would consider a perfect balance between brilliance and art.

So we began putting the pieces together for our program, and were immediately invited to pilot our program with the Dan Marino Foundation through a one-day activity with some of their students. That brief pilot eventually led to us designing, developing, authoring and delivering a one-year post-secondary Entrepreneurship Program within the Dan Marino Foundation, with amazing results. Fifteen students with developmental disabilities started off knowing very little about self-employment, and all graduated from that program by delivering a 5-minute business plan PowerPoint presentation. Each one had their own unique challenges (e.g., reading, verbal communication, self-confidence, and many others), but all were overcome on that day as they each passionately delivered a presentation they never thought possible just a year prior. Although the Dan Marino Foundation did not continue the program, we learned a very important lesson within that relationship. We were sending these students home to parents that were not fully supportive of self-employment for many reasons. Some could not at that time see the potential in their children, while others were simply not familiar with self-employment and could not think beyond traditional means of employment. So we realized that any self-employment program, in order for it to be sustainable and successful, needed the full buy-in from the parents/caregivers and support staff. How? We decided to write a new curriculum, 100% focused on parents/caregivers and professionals interested in knowing how to take the lead to assist someone interested in self-employment. This completely revolutionized our educational programs, because we were now, and continue to be, focused on educating parents/caregivers and professionals.

3. On your Website, you feature 2 quotations – one from Pablo Picasso and the other from Albert Einstein – your organization’s namesakes:
“Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.” – Pablo Picasso
“Science is the refinement of everyday thinking.” – Albert Einstein
Can you talk about how these quotations inform the mission of your organization?

Picasso and Einstein simply seemed so fitting, not only because it describes our children, but also because life requires both approaches. Recently, Dr. Temple Grandin was asked to state one thing that she has learned in her career. She responded: “I used to think that engineering (science) could fix everything. I now realize that creativity (art) is equally as important.” We couldn’t say it any better.

We have a deep respect for the scientists, who feverishly pursue a more in-depth understanding of developmental disabilities. We also have a deep respect and appreciation for those who take more liberal and artistic approaches in their engagement with individuals with developmental disabilities. Both are needed. Both are useful. Both are valued by us, and many. And in the spirit of balance, we would live in a different world if either Picasso or Einstein had never existed. We need both, and they need each other.

4. Can you describe in more detail your program — who you serve, how your services work, and your goals for the future?

With incredible partnerships with organizations such as the University of Miami Center for Autism & Related Disabilities; Olivia’s Angels Foundation; Adonis Autism; United Way of Collier County; and Work For America, as well as a collaboration in the works with the National Down Syndrome Society, Family Care Council of Florida and the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, we have been able to provide direct education to parents/caregivers and professionals on how to create simple, sustainable and most importantly, meaningful jobs by way of a simple self-employment model.

Initially we organized our own classes for parents, but have come to realize that our footprint is so much smaller than those organizations that already serve thousands of families with developmental disabilities. Hence, we have focused more recently on working directly with organizations interested in our model and in providing access to our education for the families they already serve. Smaller organizations can organize groups of parents that are interested in our #JobCreators program online, or at times, like we do with Adonis Autism, we deliver the 12 hour course in person. For larger organizations that have a solid infrastructure and staff, we offer a program in which we train and mentor staff with the goal of integrating our platform into their organization as a long-term service offering.

Our long-term goal is to provide access to our education to any family, any professional, any organization, and any self-advocate in the world. Recently, we launched our online portal SelfEmploy.org with the goal of providing that access. Proudly, we recently educated a family from New Zealand, confirming the global need for self-employment education.

5. In some segments of the disability/employment community, despite policies supporting self-employment and customized self-employment options, there continues to be a reluctance to support it. From your experience, can you talk about why you think this is the case and what steps you believe can help better facilitate this option?

First off, let me state for the record that Picasso Einstein’s mission is not to create entrepreneurs out of every single individual with developmental disabilities. Instead, our main focus is to provide information, tools, and awareness so that self-employment is offered as a viable first option, instead of the last option. All persons with disabilities simply deserve choices like all of us. It is not only their civic right, it is their basic human right.

With that said, here are some very specific items we find to be barriers to self-employment:

Education: Professional and parental/caregiver education is a substantial barrier. Most individuals, whether they are caregivers or individuals providing employment services have never been self-employed themselves. Additionally, agencies and organizations (such as vocational rehabilitation) do not make self-employment training a priority for their counselors, supervisors, etc. It’s pretty simple. It’s hard to expect people to support something they don’t fully understand or don’t feel prepared to take on. That is where our curriculum hopes to address that barrier directly.

Perception: I once had a disability community leader say in front of an audience during one of our presentations, that we (Picasso Einstein) were “overselling self-employment. And then he began to establish his argument by asking, “What about those individuals who don’t even know to run out of the house because the fire alarm is blaring?” Mind you, he described my son in that question, and yet my son is successfully pursuing self-employment. Here is the problem. When someone’s perception of the disability population is overwhelmingly based on the focus of one’s limitations, then quite often, things will seem unachievable. We (Picasso Einstein) live by the words, “Always assume competence.” Why? Because when someone assumes incompetence, like the aforementioned disability community leader, not only does he miss the abilities altogether, but far more tragic, he unknowingly removes countless opportunities for a person to try something new, different, and maybe even challenging. Not only does the person lose out, but so does the entire community depending on such a person to be progressive.

Awareness: Knowing you are not alone in the journey is important. We are hoping by way of providing exposure to stories of other families from around the world whom have chosen self-employment as their way forward to meaningful employment, that perhaps more parents, advocates, professionals will also feel comfortable exploring it a little further.

6. If you were asked to describe the 3 most important points or “best practices” you believe are most essential to creating successful and sustainable self-employment options for individuals with disabilities, what would they be and why?

Think Sustainability – Ask yourself — How will the employment plans survive long after the parents/caregivers have passed away?
Step one must be gathering a team — one that consists of a balanced group of individuals such as peers, friends, family members, local college students, other entrepreneurs to help come up with better business concepts, have larger discussions as it pertains to community supports, as well as personal supports for the individual. If all of the intricacies of the business live on the shoulders of the parents, then that business goes out of business on the day of their death. Not only is that not sustainable, it’s not fair to the person.

Think simple – Persons who tend to think in terms of job descriptions really struggle with coming up with self-employment business concepts.
This minimalistic approach to entrepreneurship is far more traditional than most know. Most businesses are founded by identifying a simple niche. What can the business do to address a particular problem? In our approach, the focus is on what the person CAN do that is meaningful to that person and can also generate income.

Community Integration – No business survives and much less thrives without having a pulse in the community.
Many individuals believe that self-employment is about locking yourself up in a garage for a year, living on rock-n-roll and pizza until you come up with the final product. We have seen that movie too. But that is not our perspective at all! On the contrary, if you build specific business activities that require community integration into the very business concept, it now becomes the vehicle for community integration. So imagine this — instead of the person integrating into the community simply because we say it’s important, they do so now because they have something to say, to offer to that community. Having a product or service to sell creates intrinsic motivation and desire to integrate into the community. This creates an environment of community integration that is not forced upon the person, but instead is desired by the person, because they now desire it, for a profit.

At the end of the day, we simply desire that individuals with disabilities have the means and platform that creates and injects meaning and purpose into everything they do, including their community engagement.