An Interview with Barbara Bissonnette of Forward Motion Coaching

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

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

JAN is fortunate to be able to use the JAN Blog as a vehicle for interviewing an organization, employer, individual, or business about how their work contributes to the employability of people with disabilities. In this Blog post, we’ve interviewed Barbara Bissonnette, certified coach and the Principal of Forward Motion Coaching. She specializes in career development coaching and workplace advocacy for individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome and Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NLD). She also offers training for professionals and consultations for parents.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you find most rewarding?

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

How can individuals contact you for assistance?

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

 

Shining a Light on Sun Safety

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

By: Sarah Small, Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Accommodation Ideas for Individuals on Dialysis

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

By: Elisabeth Simpson, Lead Consultant — Motor Team

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

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

Accommodation ideas can include:

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

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

 

 

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

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

By: Linda Carter Batiste, Principal Consultant

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

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

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

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

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

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