Thoughts from JAN’s Co-Directors for National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Posted by Kim Cordingly on October 30, 2013 under Accommodations, ADAAA, Employers, Entrepreneurship / Self Employment, General Information | Comments are off for this article

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month and this year’s theme is “Because We Are EQUAL to the Task.” While this month is a great time to raise awareness of the many valuable contributions of America’s workers with disabilities, it’s also an opportunity to reflect on the many changes over the years in how we think about disability and employment.

Job Accommodation Network (JAN) co-directors Anne Hirsh and Lou Orslene have a collective 40+ years of experience providing leadership at JAN. As the JAN Blog editor, I thought this was an opportune time to ask them to share their views on some of the issues at the heart of increasing employment opportunities for individuals with all types of disabilities.

In my initial question, I asked Anne and Lou to talk about the biggest changes they’ve observed during their tenure at JAN for people with disabilities in the employment arena.

Anne’s immediate reply was the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). She and I both began working at JAN prior to the passage of the ADA, so witnessed firsthand what a game changer this was. In those early days, some of the first questions regarding the employment provisions of the ADA were fielded by JAN consultants, with Anne coordinating our rapid increase in call volume. A related point she emphasized was the pathway created by the ADA for an individual to disclose one’s disability and subsequently request an accommodation. JAN’s work over the years has been at the forefront of facilitating this process.

On another front, Anne reflected on changes over the past 10-15 years when JAN received calls from parents asking about their children with disabilities transitioning from school to work. In recent years however, the tables have turned in that we’re now receiving an increasing number of calls from adult children contacting us about aging parents who acquire disabilities later in life and need to continue to work. Lou remarked this is a major shift in today’s workforce – many individuals are working longer while still being affected by the aging process. He suggested that employers should have proactive policies and training related to disability and employment because we are all likely in our lifetimes to be impacted by health issues in the context of work. Employers are starting to recognize the benefits of retaining aging employees who, despite an impairment, are capable of continuing to contribute to a business’ success.

Another change Anne remarked on was the increase in the number of students with disabilities in the higher education system. Lou added that particularly in his travel to conferences and training events, he encounters many more highly trained young adults with disabilities applying for positions or currently employed. This progress was fostered by the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). He remarked that while there is still much room for much improvement in educational parity and hiring rates, notable progress has been made. Programs like the Workforce Recruitment Program for College Students with Disabilities (WRP) and other internship programs are designed to enable talented and motivated college students and graduates to reach their goal of a productive career in their chosen field.

Likewise in the education arena, Lou pointed out that veterans with service-connected disabilities returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are taking advantage of the Post-911 GI Bill, which supports their educational goals and transition into civilian employment. This will mean more disabled veterans will be entering the workforce or choosing entrepreneurship, which will further diversify and strengthen our economy.

Lou noted a change as well in how we think about inclusion and diversity. It has become more commonplace for issues around disability to be incorporated into mainstream diversity programs and policies, whereas in the past, this was not the case. This shift means that expectations are changing as to what a diverse and inclusive workforce looks like. He added, “We can only expect this shift to increase in speed with the broadening of the coverage under the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) along with the new Section 503 regulations.”

My second question for Anne and Lou involved what they saw as the greatest contributions JAN has made in advancing employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities over the past 30 years.

For both Anne and Lou, two words exemplified what they saw as one of JAN’s most important contributions – confidence and competence. For individuals with disabilities, JAN consultants have educated customers on how to become better self-advocates. After thousands of calls to JAN — ultimately one conversation at a time — consultants have provided the information, resources, and guidance so that individuals can become more knowledgeable and empowered to move forward with their goals. Lou explained the same is true for the employers who have contacted JAN. Often HR professionals or managers encounter situations with applicants or employees where they are unsure what to do. They may have an ADA question, a particular accommodation situation, or both. JAN’s consulting services provide a free and confidential way for employers to discuss these situations and concerns. Employers therefore feel more confident and competent when hiring and accommodating qualified workers with disabilities; applicants and employees with disabilities feel more empowered to voice what they need to be successful on the job.

Anne highlighted a second unique JAN contribution — the role our consultants play in problem solving and sharing potential accommodations solutions with customers on a case by case basis. Lou pointed out this knowledge is then shared through JAN’s networking and training with other organizations – particularly service providers. He believes this outreach has expanded with JAN’s effective use of social networking tools and training platforms. Lou emphasized JAN’s strong commitment to support the work of other organizations thereby connecting people and organizations together in support of our collective goal of creating a more inclusive workforce.

My final question for Anne and Lou was on a more personal note – asking each to comment on what they feel is the best part of their jobs as co-directors at JAN.

Both Anne and Lou emphatically stated the best part of their job was making an impact on the lives of the customers JAN serves. As co-directors, both spend a great deal of time on the road and they each stated how blown away they are by the stories they are told about how someone’s life was affected by the guidance they received from JAN. These affirmations are received as well on an ongoing basis through emails, phone calls, and follow-up data. Anne attributes this success to the JAN staff, who she describes as “some of the most dedicated people she knows.” Both said they are constantly amazed at the day-to-day effort and passion the staff brings to their work.

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Anne and Lou for sharing their thoughts for this Blog. The JAN staff appreciates their vision, dedication and leadership.

What Are the JAN Consultants Reading?

Posted by Kim Cordingly on April 29, 2013 under Accommodations, Blogging with JAN, Entrepreneurship / Self Employment, Organizations | Comments are off for this article

In what we hope will become a regular Blog feature, we’d like to share with you some of what the JAN consultants are currently reading. In our lives, we’re all so inundated with information – articles, books, reports, policy documents, and so on. Sometimes it’s helpful to hear what others find useful. In the field of disability, accommodation, and employment, our consultants read a wide variety of materials. We hope this will inspire you to check out what they find informative and inspiring.

Linda – Principal Consultant

If you work and also care for a family member who has a disability, you may wonder whether your employer has to provide you with the accommodations you need so you can care for your family member. JAN provides information about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. The ADA does not require employers to provide accommodations for employees who have family members with disabilities, but it does prohibit discrimination on the basis of such associations. This means, for example, if your employer grants schedule modifications to other employees for child care, then it would probably be discriminatory not to grant you a schedule modification so you can care for a family member with a disability. This is referred to as the “Association Provision” of the ADA.

I find the following document particularly helpful on this topic and refer JAN’s customers to it:

Also, there may be other laws that provide you with rights related to caring for a family member with a disability. As a starting point, see:

If you would like to share your experience with working and caring for a family member with a disability, feel free to do so here.

Daniel – Consultant on the Cognitive/Neurological Team

I recently read an article published in the journal Behavior Research and Therapy entitled “Separating Hoarding from OCD.” I discovered this article as part of my research for a piece I’m writing for JAN about hoarding in the workplace. The article does a great job of explaining the current confusion over what excessive hoarding is exactly, and the reasons why it should not be lumped in with OCD. Here are some of the differences between hoarding and OCD identified in the article:

  • There are more than five times as many excessive hoarders as individuals with OCD.
  • Not everyone with OCD engages in excessive hoarding. It is estimated that between 11% and 33% of individuals with OCD are also excessive hoarders.
  • Individuals with OCD often have “insight” into their condition, recognizing that their behavior is irrational and problematic while excessive hoarders usually do not.
  • Excessive hoarding is unresponsive to traditional cognitive behavioral therapy and medications that are often effective in the treatment of OCD.

For more information about this article see:

Beth – Principal Consultant

I recently read Michael Hingson’s Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero.

This New York Times best-seller by Michael Hingson tells the true story of how he and his guide dog Roselle survived 9/11. Blind since birth, Michael is an inspirational speaker who lost Roselle in 2011, but shares his fond memories with readers. The book tells the engaging story of how Roselle saved the lives of Michael and many others who were in the World Trade Center on that fateful day.

Look here for more information on Michael Hingson and his book.

Teresa – Senior Consultant on the Sensory Team

May is Better Speech and Hearing Month so in preparation, I’m re-reading an old favorite by West Virginia University’s own Ken St. Louis entitled Living with Stuttering: Stories, Basics, Resources, and Hope. The book discusses, “the current explanations and treatments for stuttering while recognizing that the different ways in which stutterers are affected go deeper than their struggles with fluency; the effects are as diverse as the vast stuttering population itself.”

For more information see:

Anne – Co-Director

Maybe it’s because my youngest is graduating from high school this month and will be off to college soon, but I’ve been reading a good bit about the aging workforce. One very interesting piece was recently released by ODEP’s NTAR Leadership Center entitled The Aging Workforce: The Role of Medical Professionals in Helping Older Workers and Workers with Disabilities to Stay at Work or Return to Work and Remain Employed by Maria Heidkamp and Jennifer Christain, MD, MPH. The report was the outgrowth of a one-day roundtable event in 2012 — convened to explore the relationship among, “medical professionals, employers, and the public workforce and vocational rehabilitation systems in terms of their current and desired roles in preventing work disability, with ‘disability’ in this context defined as the absence from work due to a medical condition.”

JAN has a couple of documents on the Website that may be of interest to those interested in this topic as well.

Tracie – Lead Consultant

JAN receives many inquiries from employers and employees who have questions related to the ADA and performance and conduct standards. In some cases, an individual’s disability may contribute to performance or conduct issues. JAN offers information to help people understand how the ADA applies to these sometimes complicated employment situations. My go-to resource on the topic is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s guidance on this topic — The Americans with Disabilities Act: Applying Performance and Conduct Standards to Employees with Disabilities.

Melanie – Senior Consultant on the Cognitive/Neurological Team

I’ve been working on gathering and assimilating information and accommodation ideas on executive functioning for an upcoming JAN Webcast. Executive functioning involves abilities such as planning, organizing, managing time, paying attention, and remembering details. One book I’ve been reading that has been particularly helpful is Dyslexia in the Workplace by Diana Bartlett and Sylvia Moody.

Kim – Lead Consultant on the Self-Employment Team

I receive a number of inquiries from individuals with disabilities wanting to start craft, art, or handmade product related businesses. These skillfully produced creative items can include quilts, pottery, stained glass, photography, collage, jewelry, wind chimes, woodworking, and so on. In my research, I came across a book by Kari Chapin called The Handmade Marketplace – How to Sell Your Crafts Locally, Globally, and Online. JAN’s customers frequently have questions about how to successfully market their products and use social media effectively. This book includes very useful information on both of these topics – presenting it in a very informative and accessible way.