Melanie Whetzel, Lead Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team
Mental Health and Productivity in the Workplace: A Handbook for Organizations and Clinicians
By: Jeffrey P. Kahn, M.D. and Alan M. Langlieb, M.D. M.B.A
This book is written as a comprehensive and practical guide to identifying, understanding, preventing, and resolving individual and organizational mental health problems in the workplace. Written for executive management, human resources, benefits, occupational medicine, and mental health professionals, it provides a guide to implementing policies for maximum productivity. It is organized into four parts: The Workplace and Mental Health, Common Occupational Concerns, Common Organizational Issues, and Common Employee Problems.
I have not read through the entire book, as it is textbook size, but what I have read is very practical, informative, and full of good examples. I dove into the third section Common Organizational Issues and read the chapters on Psychiatric Causes of Workplace Problems, Emotional Crises in the Workplace, and Violence in the Workplace - issues currently of concern to employers and employees alike. What I found is good information that helps encourage employers to plan for and respond to occurrences of workplace violence by developing policies and working as a team, drawing on the experience and skills of different individuals and disciplines to decrease the chance of violent occurrences and increasing the ability to manage situations that do occur. This book also encourages employers to seek out the assistance of skilled and experienced mental health professionals as valued partners.
Teresa Goddard, Lead Consultant – Sensory Team
Early winter is the perfect time of year to revisit favorite volumes. I’ve been re-reading Living with Stuttering: Stories, Basics, Resources, and Hope by WVU professor Kenneth O. St. Louis. This reader friendly reference includes not only an overview of the condition along with resources for those seeking support, but also a collection of vignettes drawn from the experiences of people who stutter. Some have criticized this book, pointing to an abundance of uplifting stories and little focus on those who have experienced significant ongoing difficulties as a result of stuttering. However, I believe that the author achieved the goal of inviting readers to learn about living with stuttering while balancing authenticity with positivity. While I would welcome an updated section on resources, the core of the book still stands as an inviting collection of first-hand narratives for any reader who wants to know more about the experience of living with stuttering.
Anne Hirsh, Co-Director
Over the last few years we have seen more attention on mental health and workplace issues. Millions of Americans are affected by mental health conditions every year. The National Institute of Mental Health tells us nearly one if five U.S. adults lives with a mental illness (44.7 million in 2016). I am constantly looking for new information on how employers can improve on recognizing and then helping employees who may have mental health conditions. Of note is a white paper recently released by the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) and The Standard that addresses an employer’s role and responsibilities when employees are experiencing behavioral health conditions.
The paper is called Managing Optimal Work Performance Through Behavioral Health Conditions. It is an excellent resource for employers to use to begin the process of creating effective stay at work and return to work strategies. In addition, there are several resources employers can access (some free and some with a cost) to improve awareness of and appropriately respond to mental health issues in the workplace. You can see a list of vendors and products here. And of course, JAN has a number of resources specific to accommodations for mental health impairments.
Brittany Lambert, Consultant – Sensory Team
I have been reading Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture by Carol Padden and Tom Humphries. The authors, both members of the Deaf community themselves, compile stories and experiences of the lives of Deaf people into an insightful cultural narrative that reveals the many discrepancies between the ways Deaf people view themselves and the ways they are perceived by hearing people. The book was published in 1988, two years prior to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This was during America’s disability rights movement when self-advocacy and representation was a top priority among activists.
My favorite passage recalls a childhood experience of Sam Supalla, who grew up in a Deaf family and communicated exclusively through sign. It was not until he met a peculiar playmate that he realized he and his family were part of a distinct culture whose methods of communication were not universal. Sam became friends with his next door neighbor, a girl who was unable to understand even the simplest of signs. While visiting the girl’s home, Sam was even more astounded to see his friend and her mother conveying information to each other by moving their mouths. After this strange encounter, Sam asked his mother what kind of “affliction” his friend had. His mother then explained that the girl was “hearing” and communicated by moving her mouth. Sam was sure the neighbor and her family were the only ones to use this unusual method, and was surprised to learn that he and his family instead were the ones often considered unusual. Because he grew up immersed in Deaf culture, it was those who were hearing who seemed outside of the norm. The authors explain that this appears to be a common understanding of Deaf children living with Deaf families.
I think this is a great example of the differing views held by the hearing and Deaf populations. Many hearing people hold the belief that the medical condition of deafness is a disability that comes with substantial limitation. Individuals who are Deaf, however, often do not consider themselves as persons with a disability, but rather as members of a distinct cultural group with shared language, experiences, and history.
If you are interested in learning more about American Deaf culture, this book is a great resource to consider.
Beth Loy, Principal Consultant/Technical Specialist
I’ve been reading articles on Apple.com about the built-in accessibility features of the iPad. I’m mostly interested in the features that are available for individuals who have difficulty reading or typing written text. Although varying in degree, most individuals with these limitations have a learning disability. An individual who has difficulty reading can modify iPad settings to read text aloud. Speak Screen is a feature that, when turned on, is activated by a downward swipe. With this swipe, the iPad begins reading the page. A more targeted feature is Speak Selection, which highlights a range of text and reads it while highlighting the text.
For individuals with difficulty writing, features under Typing Feedback are helpful. The iPad can be programmed to speak each character, word, or corrected word as it’s typed. With the Hold to Speak Predictions function under Typing Feedback, word options are spoken to assist with spelling and allow the user to choose the most appropriate word. Interestingly, the iPad offers these features in several languages, and the speaking rate and voices can be changed to fit an individual user. So, if you benefit from hearing the spoken word, go to the Home screen, select General > Settings > Accessibility > Speech and get started!
Linda Batiste, Principal Consultant/Legislative Specialist
I recently had the opportunity to serve on a panel and attend a workshop called "Opioids in the Maryland Workplace: Challenges and Solutions" at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The workshop was an interesting gathering of people dedicated to finding ways to deal with the effects of opioid addiction, especially in the workplace.
One of the main issues that kept popping up was the stigma associated with drug addiction and the fact that stigma can keep people from disclosing and getting the help they need. So a lot of the day’s discussion focused on reducing stigma. Part way through the workshop, a participant stood up and disclosed that he is an addiction survivor and that one of the things that no one had suggested as a way to help reduce stigma is changing the language we use to talk about addiction issues. He indicated that some of the speakers and participants at the workshop were using outdated language and suggested we all read the information offered by the National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment (NAABT) on its website. I’m a firm believer that language matters, so I was very interested in the participant’s comment.
Once I was back in the office after attending the workshop, I went to the NAABT’s website and read the information about language and addiction, just to make sure I was using the best language. To my surprise, while I wasn’t using stigmatizing language, I also wasn’t always using the best language. So I thought I’d share what I learned in the hopes that more of us can use supportive, non-stigmatizing language when talking about opioid and other drug addiction.
According to the NAABT, a lot of the negative language used to talk about addiction started with the “War on Drugs,” which was an effort by the United States Government that began in the early 1970s. The intent of the effort was to reduce the distribution and use of illegal drugs. Some of the stigmatizing words that resulted included: users, abusers, junkies, addicts, drug habit, and testing clean or dirty. These terms are stigmatizing because they label people by their illness or behavior, minimize the medical aspects of addiction, blame the person for the addiction, associate illness with filth, and generally make people dealing with addictions into the “enemy.”
Preferred terms include: person with addiction, addiction free, addiction survivor, addictive disease or disorder, misuse, negative or positive test results, and in remission. These terms use people first language and reinforce that someone dealing with addiction has a medical condition and may need treatment for that condition.
Hopefully, if more of us start using this preferred language, people dealing with addiction will feel more supported and less stigmatized and will be able to get the help they need to treat their medical conditions. If you are interested in this issue and want to read more, here’s a good starting point at The Words We Choose Matter.
James Potts, Employment Specialist
Listening to people in distress can be overwhelming at times. Typically, people call JAN when they are in a stressful situation at work and need help. Often these individuals are in crisis mode and fear losing their job and livelihoods. We do our best to provide information and point people towards referral services, but often times we only hear about the negative stuff and never hear the successes of those we assist. So when I come across articles online highlighting the positive effects of disability inclusion, I try to take my time and let the positive message sink in for a while.
When I came across the article Cheerleaders with Disabilities Enjoy Recognition, Camaraderie discussing the Sparklers cheerleading squad, I thought I would share and hopefully pass on an encouraging narrative to those who have not had a chance to read about their program. These young women pump up their high school football team every first quarter of home football games, and they really seem to enjoy their experiences. Let’s hope more communities and schools look into similar outcomes for individuals with disabilities, and maybe even integrate more fully with the cheer squad when possible.
Tracie DeFreitas, Lead Consultant – ADA Specialist
This is a blog about…catching-up on blogs. We’ve all done it – subscribed to more blogs than we possibly have time to read. As a self-proclaimed ADA/FMLA geek, I don’t want to miss out on trending issues and court rulings so I subscribe to several ADA/FMLA law blogs. As posts find their way into my in-box, I have a tendency to scan the titles real quickly and then file them away for leisurely reading at a later time. As you might expect, these sometimes daily snippets of legal news and trending topics start to accumulate, forcing me to make time to binge read.
Legal blogs offer a practical synopsis of often complex legal issues, giving the layman the opportunity to understand these topics or cases without having to interpret in depth legalese. JAN consultants benefit from this information because it enables us to offer further insight on ADA, accommodation, and FMLA topics. In particular, I find it useful to read-up on blogs that address the complexities of attendance and leave management, the interactive process under the ADA, and avoiding FMLA mishaps.
I subscribe to four legal blogs that ADA specialists, in-house labor counsel, and HR professionals might find useful. Each blog addresses a variety of labor and employment law topics. I suggest subscribing to the following – for your leisurely binge-reading pleasure:
• Disability, Leave & Health Management Blog – Jackson│Lewis
• Employment Law Lookout – Seyfarth│Shaw
• California Peculiarities Employment Law Blog – Seyfarth│Shaw
• FMLA Insights – Franczek Radelet
Lore Lee, Employment Specialist
As an employment specialist for JAN, I speak to individuals all day who have difficulties disclosing to their employers, requesting an accommodation, or effectively advocating for their rights. I spend a lot of my time reading three specific publications written by the EEOC.
The first offers some answers to a lot of general questions one may have about the ADA and accommodations in general. It’s the publication I cite the most when speaking with employees. It’s titled Enforcement Guidance: Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This document goes over topics such as the accommodation request process, undue hardship concerns, and various forms of accommodations.
The second document covers a very important topic and is probably the publication I cite almost as often. It’s titled Disability-Related Inquiries and Medical Examinations of Employees under the Americans with Disabilities Act. As the name suggests, this guidance touches on things like when it’s appropriate to request medical documentation and what’s considered sufficient.
Lastly, but no less importantly, is the EEOC guidance called The Americans with Disabilities Act: Applying Performance and Conduct Standards to Employees with Disabilities. Employees with disabilities may have difficulties meeting certain performance and conduct standards, may need accommodations to help them meet those standards, or may be fearful of losing their accommodation for poor performance. This publication addresses each of these points and more.
While these publications don’t make for exciting reading, they are invaluable for employees to help them understand what their rights and responsibilities may be. And reading them on a regular basis helps me provide the best information possible.
Benjamin Levi, Employment Specialist
I was reading the article How to Make Your Careers Website Usable for People with Disabilities recently about the emerging topic of having an accessible website for job applicants. Available on the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) website, this article provides tips for organizations to evaluate their current website layout to identify any modifications that may need to be made in developing an accessible careers page and virtual application process.
It is important for organizations to have an accessible website for many reasons. The first is that it may offer a certain level of structure and promote a professional appearance. Another reason is it reassures the applicants that an employer is motivated to provide equal access to all potential candidates and employees, including those with disabilities. This can translate into a willingness that a potential applicant can observe that may lead them into inquiring about openings within the organization.
The article provides ten key tips to ensure accessibility including topics such as screen reader compatibility, color contrast, accessible downloadable files, and using plain language. Having these features laid out in a concise manner could make the difference in a candidate’s search for their next career move.
Matthew McCord, Consultant – Mobility Team
I recently discovered a YouTube video series by Mark Brown called Designing for Disability. This series is part of Mark Brown’s larger series on YouTube called Game Maker’s Toolkit that discusses the various tools video game designers have used in making the games we enjoy.
The Designing for Disability series currently contains three of four planned videos that each discuss the tools available for designing video games in ways that are more accessible to people with disabilities. The latest video to be released in this series (as of the writing of this article) was regarding tools to make video games more accessible for people with motor disabilities. It discusses topics like providing the option to replace sequences in a game that require the player to tap a specific button repeatedly as fast as they can, with things like holding the button down for a set period of time, or automatically completing those sequences for you instead. It also discusses topics like allowing the player to customize their control schemes, such as by changing what each button does on the controller or by allowing the use of a different control device entirely.
Video games have become a very popular hobby for many people and videos like this one help to illustrate how a few simple changes can make a large difference for someone who has a disability. This fact stuck out to me. Sometimes the changes that seem the smallest can make the biggest impact. This is the same mentality behind one of our most popular Accommodation and Compliance Series articles Low Cost, High Impact.
Kim Cordingly, Lead Consultant – Self-Employment Team
I’ve been following the progress of Canada’s proposed federal legislation called the Accessible Canada Act that seeks to remove barriers and promote greater inclusion for people with disabilities in many aspects of life, including in employment. While there are some provincial-level statutes that aim to improve accessibility, with this national effort, “This would be achieved through the proactive identification, removal, and prevention of barriers to accessibility wherever Canadians interact with areas under federal jurisdiction.” While years in the making, Canada had the advantage of examining what other countries had developed, such as our Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), in addition to an extensive input process from a variety of stakeholders across the country.
Purpose of the bill:
“The purpose of the bill is to make Canada barrier-free in areas under federal jurisdiction.
The bill outlines how to identify and remove accessibility barriers and prevent new barriers, under federal rule, including in:
- built environments (buildings and public spaces);
- employment (job opportunities and employment policies and practices);
- information and communication technologies (digital content and technologies used to access it);
- procurement of goods and services;
- delivering programs and services; and
- transportation (by air as well as by rail, ferry and bus carriers that operate across a provincial or international border).
The bill also allows the Government to identify other priorities in the future.”
After the recent death of George H.W. Bush, many tributes highlighted how he considered the signing of the ADA as one of his greatest accomplishments. These recollections also reminded me of the messy and contentious process that proceeded its bipartisan passage. Recently, some disability advocates and organizations in Canada have voiced their concerns that their legislation won’t be as effective as it needs to be. Since the bill is still in process, some are asking for amendments, among them more timelines and benchmarks.
Well into the life of the ADA, it was determined the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008 was needed to uphold the intent of the law. While imperfect, the ADA has had such a profound effect on the lives of Americans with disabilities. It may be that contention is a necessary step in creating meaningful change. I believe in the future, Canadians will look back on their process in a similar way, and commemorate a law that similarly made a huge difference in the lives of their citizens with disabilities.