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Tool helps workers with chronic conditions find job-tailored accommodations   

The Job Demands and Accommodation Planning Tool identifies job supports that workers can implement — on their own or with their supervisor’s approval — that allow them to keep working without having to disclose their health condition.

Thanks to advances in health treatments and medical procedures, a growing number of people with chronic health conditions no longer have to leave the labour force as they might have in the past.

Yet for many people with chronic health conditions, working can still be challenging when their symptoms flare or worsen and their ability to work is hampered by their job demands, organizational policies and practices or work environments. Although these workers can ask for accommodation during such episodes, many choose not to. For some, having to disclose a health condition to get help is not a trade-off they are willing to make.

This is where a new tool developed at the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) comes in. Called the Job Demands Accommodation Planning Tool—JDAPT for short—this anonymous, interactive and online questionnaire allows workers with chronic conditions to learn about potential accommodations specific to their job demands. If implemented, these supports may help them continue to work safely, comfortably and productively in their jobs, all without having to disclose their health condition.

The JDAPT questionnaire, available in English and French, asks a user to identify the specific job tasks that they find challenging during episodes of health-related difficulties, to what degree and if these challenges change over time. Based on the completed questionnaire, the JDAPT generates a list of potential changes to the user’s job tasks that they can make, or ask for, to manage their health-related difficulties.

A question we often hear from people with chronic, episodic health conditions is, ‘Should I say something to my employer so that I can get support?’ says Dr. Monique Gignac, IWH Senior Scientist and director of Accommodating and Communicating Episodic Disabilities (ACED)—the large research partnership that led the development of the JDAPT.

The purpose of the JDAPT is to give people a way to think about the specific accommodations and supports that they need and can ask for. We hope that by using the JDAPT, workers and workplaces can focus on work solutions and not on the medical conditions or health symptoms that people may have. 

Tool designed for wide range of conditions
The JDAPT is designed for workers living with one or more of a broad spectrum of chronic, episodic health conditions. Examples include mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, Crohn’s disease, colitis, multiple sclerosis, migraine, rheumatic diseases like arthritis and lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome, many musculoskeletal conditions (eg. low-back pain, tendinopathies), HIV/AIDs and many forms of cancer. Based on what is known so far, a potential addition to this list is long Covid.  

Despite having different causes, these conditions have a key feature in common. Symptoms can come and go. Periods of good health are punctuated by episodes of disabling symptoms that are often unpredictable in severity and duration. What’s more, symptoms are often invisible; to managers and colleagues, workers living with these conditions may appear in good health.

People living with these conditions can go for a long time without any limitations in their daily activities, but episodes or flares can return, says Gignac. Because the symptoms can be hidden to others, and because it can be hard to predict what the next episode will be like, it can be very difficult for these individuals to decide whether or not to disclose. In several studies conducted by the research team, between one-quarter and one-half of about 3,400 workers surveyed said they had not talked to their supervisors about their health limitations at work. Although their reasons varied, Gignac found that workers who have unmet accommodation needs experience greater job limitations, more job disruptions and greater perceived productivity losses.

Deciding whether to reveal or conceal a need for support is a complex, and very personal, decision. In the meantime, the JDAPT helps those needing support to work through their needs and get support and accommodation ideas. By using the JDAPT, individuals can identify the different aspects of the job where they encounter health-related difficulties. The tool then provides suggestions of job modifications that they can ask for—without having to go into detail about the health reasons behind their requests. In many cases, the adjustments can be something individuals undertake on their own.

How the JDAPT works
The JDAPT is relevant to a wide variety of job types and workplace contexts. The JDAPT covers not just physical and cognitive demands; it also asks users to think about the interpersonal demands they face, as well as the conditions
of their day-to-day work. 

As users make their way through the 24 job demands, they’re asked to determine whether each job demand is an important part of their job. For the job demands relevant to their job, users are then asked whether they encounter difficulties meeting the job demand due to their health difficulties. If yes, they are asked to indicate if those difficulties are constant or changing. 

Once users have gone through the questions about the demands of their jobs—and the health-related difficulties they experience with each of the relevant demands—they are provided with a customized list of job modifications they can ask for or undertake themselves. Some are small adjustments that workers can make on their own. Some are accommodations that may involve the help or cooperation of co-workers at work. Others are changes that users need to formally request from the HR department.

Users can save a PDF of their job demands summary and their list of potentially helpful strategies for reference later or as a resource for conversations with their supervisor. Beyond that, results are not recorded, saved or shared with anyones.

In the next phase of the ACED research project, Gignac’s team is developing a tool to help people decide whether communicating their health difficulties with others at work is the right decision for them.

Uyen Vu, is the Communications Manager for Institute for Work and Health in Ontario.

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