Network provides answers to 'disabled' employees
October 9, 2008
This article is the second in a five-part series regarding working with employees who have disabilities. Check on the latest updates in the next
edition of the Sentinel.
FORT MCPHERSON, Ga. -- The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is a free computing service designed to increase the employability of people with disabilities and is one of many resources available to employers and employees.
Established in 1983, JAN represents the most comprehensive resource for job accommodations available.
"JAN is there whenever and however you need it, be it searching on its Web site or relying on the knowledge and expertise of its staff via telephone," explained Patricia E. Duncan, an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) specialist with the U.S. Army Garrison EEO office. "And it's free."
JAN is a service of the Office of Disability Employment Policy of the U.S. Department of Labor. It embraces a mission of providing employers, people with disabilities, rehabilitation specialists and others with practical information regarding the tools and techniques necessary to successfully work through the job accommodation process.
JAN's 13 trained consultants have access to a database containing more than 200,000 practical accommodation options that include, but are not limited to, workplace modifications, assistive technologies, job restructuring and modified work schedules.
"You get an unbiased resource," explained Anne Hirsh, co-director and 20-year employee of JAN. "It provides information so someone can perform his or her job effectively."
By using an accommodation process, employers can bridge the distance between the maximum ability of an individual and essential functions of a job. This process involves managing five steps for successful workplace accommodation outcomes: defining the situation, performing a needs assessment, exploring alternative placement options, redefining the situation and monitoring the accommodation.
Although an individual has a disability or limitation, he or she may not need accommodations in the workplace; an individual may have a disability that doesn't limit his or her ability to perform job functions.
"We try to get responses out, at the very least, within a 48-hour timeframe," Hirsh said. "Our contract requires us to respond within 48 hours, but we usually do it within 24 hours."
The exception to this response time is on weekends, when responses will not be made until the following Monday.
JAN provides four person-to-person workplace accommodations technical assistance services and three electronic technical assistance services. JAN's electronic technical services include a Web site, the Small Business and Self-Employment Service Web site and a Searchable Online Accommodation Resource (SOAR).
The Web site (www.jan.wvu.edu) provides information and links to more than 300 disability-specific accommodation publications. If the nature of a particular disability is not known, JAN can offer suggestions to help think creatively about accommodations.
"This is a tool so someone can go online to explore accommodation options based on a disability or condition," Hirsh explained. "It will take you through more common limitations of job functions."
JAN's Small Business and Self-Employment Service Web site (www.jan.wvu.edu/sbses/) provides comprehensive information, counseling and referrals about self employment and small business ownership opportunities for people with disabilities.
Entrepreneurship is an opportunity for people with disabilities to realize their full potential while becoming financially self-supporting. Benefits of self-employment or small business ownership include working at home and controlling your work schedule.
The SOAR, at www.jan.wvu.edu/soar/ is designed to let users independently explore various accommodation options for people with disabilities in work and educational settings. SOAR automatically provides personalized accommodation information after answering a few online questions. If the accommodation requires equipment or assistive technology, SOAR will provide information as to where the product can be purchased.
JAN can also help businesses and services comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and other disability-related legislation. Employers can call 800-232-9675 (voice) or 877-781-9403 (TTY) to talk to a JAN consultant who is knowledgeable about employment issues, public access issues and ways to modify facilities and equipment. JAN's staff will often follow up telephone calls with printed materials via e-mail, fax or ground mail. The staff also preserves the confidentiality of communication between a caller and consultant.
"JAN provides information and answers to both employees and management in an area where they are not sure of what can and cannot be done, and when they don't know the questions, much less the answers yet," Duncan emphasized.
According to Hirsch, approximately 32,000 individuals contact JAN each year. In a recent survey, based on cost benefit and customer satisfaction, Hirsh explained, "97.3 percent of customers say they would use us again, and more than 50 percent of employers make an accommodation after talking with us."
JAN is a resource Duncan believes would help increase the number of employees with targeted disabilities within the federal workforce, if more employers and employees were familiar with its existence.
"I think it is human nature to be wary of the unknown and of those who don't 'look like us,'" Duncan added. "As employees and management focus less on the 'disability' and more on the 'abilities' of individuals with disabilities, they will see the advantages and benefits of having them as part of the workforce. Just because someone is in a wheelchair or has a guide dog does not mean they can't think or have great ideas and suggestions about how to meet the challenges to accomplish the mission."
JAN's operating hours are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m.