Accommodating Workers with Epilepsy

The Employment Standard under the AODA requires employers to accommodate workers with disabilities.  This article will specifically look at accommodating workers with epilepsy and outline the kinds of accommodations workers might need.

What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a brain disorder that causes people to have seizures. A seizure happens when brain activity is disrupted for a few seconds to a few minutes. The kind of seizure a person has depends on which parts of the brain are affected.

Some people experience tonic-clonic seizures, which involve loss of consciousness and convulsions, while other people have seizures that cause confusion for a few moments, staring, or brief involuntary twitching of one part of the body such as eyelid movement. After seizures, people’s ordinary brain function returns, although they may be confused at first. They may also need to rest for a few minutes or an hour, depending on the severity of the seizure. Many people with epilepsy are able to reduce or eliminate their seizures through medication or other treatments. Workers may require brief leaves of absence as they adjust to new medications.

Accommodating Workers with Epilepsy

Explaining Accommodations

Since epilepsy affects everyone differently, individual workers will be best able to tell employers about accommodations they may need. Workers who disclose epilepsy may explain:

  • What usually happens during a seizure
  • How often they have seizures
  • Whether seizures usually happen at certain times of day
  • How long their seizures usually last
  • Whether seizures happen randomly or in patterns
  • Whether seizures are triggered by certain environmental conditions, such as:
    • Flashing lights
    • Increased stress
  • If they have warning signs before seizures, and if so:
    • What the warning signs are
    • How much time there is between warning signs and seizures
  • Whether they need to rest after seizures, and for how long
  • What colleagues should do during a seizure
  • Whether they will need first aid and what first aid procedures might involve
  • Under what circumstances they might need further medical intervention

Action Plan for Seizures at Work

Workers and employers should develop an action plan detailing what to do if workers think they may have seizures at work. This plan must be confidential and stored in a worker’s medical file, not a personnel file. If workers require assistance before, during, or after their seizures, they should choose a colleague to whom they will disclose and show that colleague what kind of help they might need. Workers who receive warning signs can arrange ways to alert colleagues to a coming seizure.

Colleagues may accompany workers to a peaceful location, call emergency contacts, determine whether workers need medical attention, or offer explanations to relieve workers’ disorientation after seizures. If workers are temporarily unable to see, hear, or speak after a seizure, they should identify hand signals or other methods they can use to communicate with colleagues until their sensory processing returns. Workers may spend time alone after seizures for rest or daily living needs, or to calm down after the unsettling experience of a seizure away from home.

Coworkers should be trained in first aid. Employers can post first aid charts prominently for all workers to see. Colleagues not involved in assisting workers during seizures should continue working. Workers may wish to have general information about epilepsy available for colleagues, customers, or clients to read if they are concerned while witnessing a seizure.

Everyday Accommodations

Workers might need other accommodations to minimize the likelihood of seizures by reducing their exposure to environmental triggers. The nature of the accommodations will depend on the kinds of job tasks workers perform, the kinds of seizures they experience, and the warnings they receive before seizures. Someone whose seizures are triggered by flashing lights may need natural light or full spectrum lighting rather than fluorescent lights. Such a worker may use a computer with a flicker-free monitor, a monitor glare guard, a cubicle shield, or frequent breaks from the machine. Workers unable to drive whose jobs involve some travelling may car-pool or use public transit. Those who use machinery and have difficulty balancing or climbing may use machine guarding, rolling safety ladders, head and eye protection, or cushioning.

Workers may sometimes have difficulty with memory or fatigue because of recent seizures or side-effects of medication. They may need written or recorded instructions, occasional re-training, secure lists of passwords, or directories and nametags to match colleagues’ names and faces. They may keep track of tasks with checklists, charts, and calendars, or rest in a quiet location during breaks.

Benefits of Accommodating Workers with Epilepsy

Employers accommodating workers with epilepsy will support not only workers who have disclosed, but also workers who have chosen not to disclose and workers who may develop epilepsy in the future.

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Accommodating Workers who are Blind or Visually Impaired

The Employment Standard under the AODA requires employers to accommodate workers with disabilities.  This article will specifically look at accommodating workers who are blind or visually impaired and outline the kinds of accommodations workers might need. Individual workers will know which accommodations will be most helpful for them.

Accommodating Workers who are Blind or Visually Impaired

Moving Safely Around the Workplace

Workers will often have training to navigate their surroundings safely, called orientation and mobility (O and M) training. Some workers may need to memorize routes from one important workplace location to another, such as:

  • From the front door to their work stations
  • Between their work stations, washrooms, and break rooms

Some workers might invite an O and M specialist to show them around, while others may request that a colleague does so. Once workers have memorized these routes, they will walk around the workplace without help.

White Canes, Guide Dogs, and Sighted Guide

Workers may use white canes to find out about their surroundings and to locate or avoid obstacles like furniture and stairs. Colleagues should not touch a white cane without its owner’s permission.

Workers may also use guide dogs. Owners receive training to work with their dogs, which must learn to follow their owners’ directions about where to go, look out for obstacles, and behave appropriately in public places  where non-service-dogs are not allowed to go. Colleagues should never touch a worker’s guide dog without its owner’s permission.

In addition, workers may sometimes ask colleagues to act as sighted guides: individuals use a technique in which they grasp the guide’s arm near the elbow to feel and follow where the guide is going. Whether colleagues use sighted guide or provide verbal directions, they can be most helpful by:

  • Saying “left” and “right” rather than “over here”
  • Audibly tapping the object or region that the worker is trying to find
  • Describing important elements of their surroundings

Recognizing Colleagues

Many blind and visually impaired people learn to recognize others by their voices. Colleagues should identify themselves by name whenever they start a conversation with their new coworker until that person tells them not to do so. They should also alert the worker if they are leaving the room.

Accessing Written Information

Workers will access written information in different ways. Workers who have enough vision to read print may read in a large font or use technology that magnifies the text on a page or computer screen. People who do not read print often read Braille. They may use computer Braille displays which present text on a screen in Braille, or programs called screen readers which vocalize text-based information. Funding for these assistive devices in the workplace is available through provincial or federal government programs.

Workers using this technology will be able to read textual information they receive in files, emails and many websites. Employers can make other information accessible by giving workers advance copies of any information not available online, so that they can convert it into an accessible format. For example, an employer might:

  • Send a worker the electronic version of a print handout
  • Photo-copy a handout in a font size the worker can read
  • Give the worker a hard copy early so the worker can use their own software to make an accessible version

Individual workers will explain which of these options will be most useful for them. They will also say how far in advance information should be provided.

If a large portion of a blind or visually impaired worker’s prospective job would involve reading handwriting, especially in a team environment, the employer should consider arranging job responsibilities so that the worker only needs to use digital information. In this way, the worker is accommodated while doing the same amount of work as colleagues.


Although workers who are blind or visually impaired perform some job tasks differently than sighted workers, they are equally productive. By accommodating workers who are blind or visually impaired, employers will have access to a pool of independent, competent, conscientious, and creative workers.

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Accommodating Workers with Physical or Mobility Disabilities

Under the employment standard of the AODA, employers must accommodate workers who have physical or mobility disabilities. Employers and coworkers can easily learn how to make the workplace accessible for workers with physical or mobility disabilities, such as spinal cord injuries, amputations, and muscular or neurological conditions that affect mobility.

Workers will be able to explain what their individual needs are and which accommodations, if any, they require.

Accommodating Workers with Physical or Mobility Disabilities

Assistive Devices and Service Animals

Some workers may use mobility devices to get to and around the workplace. For instance, these devices include:

  • Canes
  • Crutches
  • An orthotic brace
  • Prosthetic limbs
  • Scooters
  • Walkers
  • Manual or power wheelchairs

Some workers may always use assistive devices. Others may never use them, use them for part of the time, or use them for specific tasks, such as when they are fatigued or travelling long distances.

Workers may also have service animals, which help people perform tasks, such as regaining balance, retrieving dropped or out-of-reach items, or opening doors. Owners are trained to work with their animals, which learn how to behave in public places where non-service-animals are not allowed. Employers and coworkers should never touch an assistive device or service animal without its owner’s permission.

Invisible Physical Disabilities

Workers who do not use assistive devices or service animals may identify as having an invisible physical disability. They may have difficulty with tasks, such as standing, walking, balance, climbing stairs, or travelling long distances. Workers should choose whether or not to disclose their disabilities.  Furthermore, they should choose which colleagues, if any, they wish to disclose to.

General Communication Tips

Look at and speak to a worker with a physical disability directly instead of addressing a colleague or support person.

Employers or coworkers who think a worker might need help should ask instead of automatically assuming that the worker does. The worker will be best able to describe what kind of help is needed.

It is acceptable to use language or figures of speech relating to walking or grasping things or to offer to shake hands. If workers are uncomfortable with any of these behaviours, they will suggest alternatives.

Words and phrases like “immobile”, “wheelchair-bound”, or “confined to a wheelchair” are inappropriate since wheelchairs and other mobility devices promote users’ freedom of movement.

Employers or colleagues who are talking to a worker in a wheelchair for more than a few minutes should sit down to be at eye level.

When giving directions, think about routes without stairs, sharp curbs, or steep hills. Some workers may need more time to traverse longer distances, while others will find outdoor travel more difficult in rain and snow.

Travelling To and Around the Workplace

Some workers will drive, possibly using vehicles equipped with hand controls or left foot gas pedals, and will require accessible parking spaces. In contrast, others will arrive using public transit or a para-transit service. In addition, workers’ routes to, into, through and between work buildings, especially locations like washrooms, lunch rooms, or break rooms, must be accessible. Some workers will need level or ramped entrances or automatic doors. Others will require that their workstations be near these locations and any machines they use on a regular basis. Some workers may always use elevators or stair lifts to navigate between floors, while others may need rest breaks after climbing stairs or walking across a building. Hallways and open areas should be wide and obstacle-free.

Accessibility at Work Stations

Some workers may need their desks to be at a certain height. They may use height-adjustable tables or have desks raised on wooden blocks. They may also arrange files or supplies at heights they can reach. Some may avoid high or low drawers or shelves. Workers who use machines may need to operate them from a seated position, with hand controls rather than pedals, or by voice control. Some people may use a telephone with voice activation, large buttons, automatic dialing, a holder for the receiver, or a headset. To help with reading, some workers may use page turners or book holders.

There are many writing and typing devices to assist workers with physical or mobility disabilities. For instance, they may use:

  • Writing grip aids
  • A large-key keyboard
  • Keyguards
  • A one-handed keyboard
  • A touchpad or touchscreen with a stylus
  • An ergonomic keyboard or mouse
  • An adjustable keyboard tray
  • Wrist supports
  • A foot mouse
  • A trackball
  • A joystick
  • Speech recognition software
  • A head pointing system (a device that controls a computer through head or eye movement or facial muscles)
  • A mouthstick

Scheduling Work Hours

Workers may benefit from a variety of scheduling accommodations, such as:

  • A longer work day with lengthened or more frequent breaks
  • A compressed work week
  • Remote work, either permanently or for part of the time

Some workers may have attendants come in at times to assist with personal care needs.

Finally, employers who consider accommodating workers with physical or mobility disabilities will discover a multitude of job candidates eager to exercise their diverse talents for workplaces that make themselves accessible.


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Accommodating Students With Disabilities on Campus: Moving Beyond Silos

A new report looks at how accessibility and accommodations are meeting the needs of disabled students across Canada. By MICHAEL RANCIC | NOV 21 2018

A new study aims to challenge how accessibility and accommodations are understood at postsecondary institutions. Released in October, the Landscape of Accessibility and Accommodation in Post-Secondary Education for Students with Disabilities report says that accessibility remains siloed within postsecondary education.

Accessibility and inclusion efforts in the postsecondary environment have lagged behind the evolution of the student experience and are limited to the academic (classroom and online learning) environment, reads the report, published by the National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS).

Founded in 1986, NEADS mandate is to support access to education and employment for postsecondary students and graduates with disabilities across Canada. The Social Development Partnerships Program of Employment and Social Development Canada funded the Landscape project in 2016 to help inform the federal governments new national accessibility legislation, known as Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada. The bill went through its first reading in June 2018 and was referred to committee in September for further study.

We recognized that it was very important that postsecondary students and graduates with disabilities have a significant input into the consultations relating to a federal disability act, said Frank Smith, NEADS national coordinator.

Beyond the opportunity to influence new federal legislation, there were more pressing reasons that necessitated the report, said Mr. Smith. [NEADS] started in 1986 that was before most students were using computers, the internet, social media. It was a time when, if you were a blind student, you got your books on tape, he said.

What has happened since then with technology, online learning and distance education has really helped to level the playing field for many people with disabilities who, without technology, would not be able to fully participate, Mr. Smith continued. However, technology has also introduced new challenges: with more students with disabilities able to participate on campus, is the accommodation process working for them the best that it can? How is the rest of campus life meeting their needs? This rapidly shifting learning dynamic hasnt been studied with this kind of national scope, Mr. Smith explained.

We often dont look at whole systems across a nation, said Christine Arnold, one of the co-investigators for the Landscape report and an assistant professor in the faculty of education at Memorial University (the two other co-investigators were Michelle Pidgeon, an associate professor of education at Simon Fraser University, and Deanna Rexe, vice-president, academic, at Assiniboine Community College). I dont know that weve seen this comprehensive of a scan across the entire country looking at the policies, programs and the literature, said Dr. Arnold

The project was a collaborative effort between researchers at SFU, Assiniboine and Memorial, along with a team of 15 graduate students with disabilities. The report and its recommendations came from a substantive literature review, environmental scans, data analysis from surveys like the Canadian Graduate Survey, as well as consultations with students, service providers and educators at various conferences across the country.

The report makes numerous recommendations for policy changes at the federal, provincial and institutional levels (the latter includes service providers, teaching staff and libraries).

These include: Mandate accessibility of features, methods, applications and protocols used by persons with disabilities in navigating education and employment, meaning that accessibility shouldnt be limited to certain areas of education and employment; and Mandate postsecondary institutions to outline a nationally accepted set of essential requirements for all their programs of study, which aims to eliminate the current regional and provincial disparities that exist with respect to policies and practices around accessibility and inclusion.

Information gaps

Across all recommendations, some themes emerged, said Dr. Arnold. First and foremost was the limited amount of research previously done in this area. We found there were gaps gaping gaps at times, she said.

Identifying those gaps was a key step before more original research could take place, Dr. Arnold added. We know theres real appetite to do this work and we know that its becoming increasingly important as we open up access for students and were trying to accommodate more students and try to make sure theyre successful.

Dr. Arnold cited the example of student transitions within institutions, between institutions and from postsecondary education into the job market as an area thats of particular interest to her, and yet a literature review she conducted yielded little research. How do our services allow our students to make those transitions successfully and where do we fall down? she asked.

Dr. Arnold also said more effort needs to be focused on the retention and attrition of students, making sure that they have supports they need and know where to find them. A lot of the literature focuses on support for students with disabilities with regard to their coursework their academics, making sure theyre proceeding in their program but theres this whole other dimension of student life, she said.

Acknowledging this, the Landscape report suggests that accommodations need to be built into programs and initiatives that fall under student services or student affairs. Co-curricular experiences, work-oriented learning, experiential learning, leadership opportunities all of these need to have accommodations built into them, she said.

Jay Dolmage, an associate professor of English at the University of Waterloo who researches disability accommodations, said the NEADS report reveals a culture thats failing its disabled students. Offices of disability services, especially in Canada, are doing a good job within the parameters theyre often really underfunded and understaffed. But, theres also a cultural stigma against disability that makes it difficult to do that job effectively, he said, noting that, according to the multi-year accountability agreements published by each university, fewer students are seeking accommodations from one year to the next.

Dr. Dolmage added: Universities map disability as a legal requirement and as something that needs to be medically verified, but they might not necessarily recognize disability as an important source of diversity or as a culture. Mr. Smith at NEADS agreed: That medical approach doesnt speak to the individual learning path or requirement of the student who happens to have a disability.

Fundamentally, said Dr. Arnold, the report and its recommendations are rooted in a push for universal planning in education. There are always going to be specific accommodations, she said. However, if we can be more universal and plan for those in advance, we would be doing ourselves a great favour and our students would be able to see themselves in the programming. Seeing yourself there and knowing youll be comfortable is honestly at times half the struggle.

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Accommodating Workers with Brain Injuries

The Employment Standard under the AODA requires employers to accommodate workers with disabilities.  This article will specifically look at accommodating workers with brain injuries and outline the kinds of accommodations workers might need.

What are Brain Injuries?

People with brain injuries have experienced a disease, accident, or trauma that has changed the way their brains function. The kind or degree of change people experience depends on how they have been injured. It also depends on which parts of the brain the injury has affected. Some people may regain part of the brain functioning they have lost, while others may not.

Brain injuries can affect many abilities, such as:

  • Mobility
  • Information processing, such as textual or verbal information
  • Speech
  • Focus
  • Memory, organization, and time management
  • Behavioural regulation and stress management

Accommodating Workers with Brain Injuries

Workers will explain what they require based on their injuries and needs. Below we outline what some of these needs are and what accommodations can help.


To assist workers who have limited mobility, workplaces may need to have accessible features, such as:

  • Accessible parking spaces
  • Level or ramped entrances
  • Automatic doors
  • Accessible washrooms
  • Accessible routes to lunch and break rooms
  • A desk or supplies at heights workers can reach

Information processing

Textual information

Workers may read in a large font or use technology that magnifies text. On the other hand, workers may read Braille instead of print. They may also use computer programs called screen readers to hear text-based information.

If workers have difficulty processing written information, they may process information in other ways, such as:

  • Use dictation software
  • Type instead of handwriting
  • Record verbal instructions
  • Listen to information given in-person or by phone instead of by email
  • read diagrams or charts instead of large blocks of text.

Visual Information

If workers are best able to retain visual information, colleagues can provide information in a few different ways, such as:

  • In writing
  • Sending brief emails after conversations
  • Demonstrating tasks

Workers may take notes or repeat verbal information to confirm that they understand it. In addition, if workers have trouble comprehending subtext, colleagues can reduce misunderstandings by being clear and specific. Moreover, workers may ask whether their interpretation of a given situation is correct.

Speech impairment

Co-workers speaking to workers with speech impairments should:

  • Talk in a quiet space
  • Speak naturally
  • Not complete the worker’s sentences
  • Focus on what the worker is saying, not how the worker is saying it
  • Be patient


Some people work best in enclosed spaces without distractions or clutter, permanently or for part of the day. While some workers may use noise-canceling headsets, listen to calming music or sounds, others may prefer to set up their workstations away from high-traffic areas or loud devices.

Furthermore, workers may benefit from changing their work schedule or location, such as:

  • Having flexible schedules
  • Working from home
  • Taking longer breaks
  • Doing only essential parts of their jobs

Workers may also request not to be disturbed during times of intensive focus, break down large projects into smaller tasks, or exchange certain job tasks with coworkers.

Memory, organization, and time management

Workers may need clear written expectations of responsibilities and consequences.

Others may keep track of information using different methods, such as:

  • Recordings
  • Charts or pictures detailing how to solve problems
  • Colour-coding
  • Checklists
  • Timers

To help workers remember discussions at meetings or any type of training, they may request written minutes or make audio recordings. They may also request reminders of deadlines.  Additionally, workers may meet often with a supervisor to ask questions, set job goals, and determine whether they are being achieved.

Behavioural Regulation and Stress Management

Workers with brain injuries often have training in which they learn tools to maintain and regulate emotions or behaviours impacted by changes in brain function. For instance:

  • Responsibility
  • Respect for colleagues
  • Self-awareness
  • Personal and social boundaries
  • Safety

Supervisors, colleagues, and workers can create a system to make the worker aware of inappropriate actions or mannerisms in the workplace.

Workers may also have certain ways of de-stressing or calming themselves down. For instance, workers may:

  • Use flex-time
  • Call a doctor or support person
  • Reduce physical exertion
  • Step away from frustrating situations

Furthermore, workers and colleagues should develop strategies for dealing with conflict before it happens. Moreover, when workplaces are introducing changes in environments or supervisors, colleagues should communicate with workers to ensure smooth transitions or arrange any new accommodations.

Finally, open communication and positive reinforcement are important for workers with brain injuries and for all workers. Employers happy to accommodate will create a positive and inclusive atmosphere for everyone.

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Accommodating Workers with Mental Illnesses: Part Two

In Accommodating Workers with Mental Illnesses: Part 1, we defined what a mental illness is, briefly described some common mental health challenges, and explained how some workers with mental illnesses may experience them.

In Part 2, we will explore how employers can create mentally healthy work environments, discuss how workers can disclose that they have mental health impairments, and list accommodations employers can provide for workers who disclose.

How to Create Mentally Healthy Workplaces

Employers can create a mentally healthy workplace for all employees by:

  • Providing positive feedback
  • Regulating how conflicts should be resolved
  • Encouraging respectful interpersonal relationships
  • Ensuring that workloads permit work-life balance

Employers who foster this healthy environment may help workers with mental illnesses feel comfortable disclosing their conditions. Workers may choose not to disclose because of the social stigma that surrounds mental illness or because they fear possible discrimination.

How to Disclose

If workers choose to disclose, they should first investigate their employer’s policy on workplace accommodations. Large organizations may have a human resources department that handles all such concerns without involving a worker’s supervisor, whereas smaller organizations may not. So, a conversation with an immediate supervisor may be required. However, disclosing could involve any of the following individuals:

  • The employer
  • The supervisor
  • Human resources personnel

Workers are not required to disclose their medical diagnoses, but they should explain that they are encountering health problems. They should also describe the accommodations they need in order to perform job tasks successfully. They may wish to do so in person but may also offer to provide information in pamphlets or websites that can help the employer better understand their conditions or accommodations. Workers’ doctors may need to verify this information. Disclosing to employers, or to other colleagues if workers choose to do so, may expose workers to stigma. However, disclosure may also lead to a more secure or fulfilled work experience.

Accommodating Workers with Mental Illnesses

Workers with mental health illnesses can remain fully productive using a variety of accommodations. Employers should ask workers which accommodations are best for them.

Accommodations to Maximize Focus

Some people with mental health impairments may work best in enclosed spaces without auditory or visual distractions, either permanently or for part of the workday. Others may use noise-canceling headsets, listen to calming music or sounds, or set up their workstations away from high-traffic areas or loud devices. Some employees may work best in an environment with natural light or full spectrum lighting. Others may work from home for part or all of the time, arrange to come to work during a time of day when they are most focused, or maintain a consistent work schedule. Some workers may focus intensively for short periods of time and take brief breaks. Others may request not to be disturbed during periods of intensive work. They may need to break down large projects into smaller tasks or exchange certain job tasks with coworkers.

Accommodations for Memory, Organization, and Time Management

Some workers will prefer written instructions in addition to verbal directions, while others will benefit from verbal reminders. Workers may keep track of information using different methods, such as:

  • Audio recordings
  • Daily or weekly checklists
  • Wall calendars
  • Planners or notebooks
  • Sticky notes or colour-coded labels
  • Electronic organizers or apps.

Workers may request written minutes of meetings and training sessions or make recordings of these events. Some people may need additional training when learning new tasks, or request reminders of deadlines by email or in person. Some employees may work with a job coach to develop organization or time management skills. Others may meet regularly with a colleague to set job goals and to ensure they are being met.

Accommodations for Stress Management

Some workers may need to take longer breaks during the day or call a doctor or support person. Others may need to perform only the essential tasks of their jobs during times of stress. Employees who have Panic Disorder should be able to move to a restful location where they can relax. Workers who are triggered by certain smells or noises should work in an environment free of these sensory stimuli. Employers and employees should develop strategies for handling conflict. Workers may sometimes need to step away from frustrating or stressful situations. Supervisors, colleagues, and workers can create a system to let workers know if they are behaving unprofessionally or inappropriately. When workplaces are introducing changes in environments or supervisors, colleagues should communicate with workers to ensure smooth transitions or arrange any new accommodations.

Employers who provide accommodations for workers with mental health challenges prove to everyone working for them that they value the well-being of their staff. Employers who create supportive workplaces will gain the expertise of workers who can offer a wide range of skills and talents when the accommodations they need are met.


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Accommodating Workers with Mental Illnesses: Part One

Under the AODA, specifically the Employment Standard, employers are required to accommodate workers with mental illnesses. To do so, employers must become aware of what mental illnesses are. They also need to learn some strategies that will allow people with such illnesses to succeed in the workplace.

What are Mental Illnesses?

Mental illnesses are medical conditions that can affect many different aspects of a person, such as:

  • Thought processes
  • Emotions
  • Moods
  • Behaviours
  • Sense of self
  • Capacity to connect with others
  • Ability to cope with stress

Common Mental Illnesses

There are many different mental illnesses. However, we will only discuss a few that are common for workers with mental illnesses. Some common mental illnesses are:

Anxiety Disorders:

Conditions in which people’s experience of anxiety becomes overwhelming and often affects other aspects of their lives.

Bipolar Disorder:

A chronic illness involving extreme changes in people’s moods, energy levels, and ability to think clearly. In addition, people experience periods of mania or depression that can last days or months.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD):

A condition characterized by:

  • Difficulty regulating emotions
  • Severe mood swings
  • Impulsivity
  • Unstable self-image

Moreover, these characteristics can negatively affect people’s relationships.


Persistent feelings of sadness that can impact people’s:

  • Thoughts
  • Moods
  • Behaviour
  • Energy levels
  • Activities
  • Physical health

Eating Disorders:

Conditions in which people’s intensive concern about food, weight, or body image lessens their ability to focus on other parts of their lives.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD):

An illness in which a person has repeated and unwanted thoughts (obsessions) or irrational urges to perform certain actions (compulsions).

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):

A condition in which some people who have experienced a traumatic event, such as an accident, assault, military combat or natural disaster, may have repeated, involuntary memories or flashbacks of the event, sometimes triggered by sights, sounds or smells that recall the event.


A condition in which people have difficulty distinguishing what is real from what is not, thinking clearly, making decisions, relating to others, or regulating emotions. People may also have hallucinations or delusions.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD):

An illness in which people experience periods of depression during late fall and winter but are without these symptoms for the rest of the year.

Different Ways to Experience Mental Illnesses

People experience mental health challenges differently: some people experience periods of illness between times when they are feeling their best, while others’ states of mental health are unchanging. Additionally, some instances of mental illness may be caused by triggers. For example, a person may develop depression after an upsetting life event.  However, other people may have depression without experiencing such an event. Furthermore, some people experience one depressive episode while others undergo repeated episodes.

Likewise, someone with BPD may experience a persistent feeling of anger after an event elsewhere that inspired this feeling. Similarly, a person who has PTSD may experience flashbacks of a traumatic event through a certain smell or sound.

Workers with mental illnesses may face challenges, such as:

  • Focusing
  • Processing information
  • Making choices

They may also begin behaving in non-typical ways, for example, distance themselves from others or take a great deal of time off. These difficulties may cause workers to feel that they cannot work or to worry about losing their jobs. These concerns further complicate workers’ mental well-being.

As a result of having open and positive dialogue between workers and employers, fears surrounding mental health will lessen. Employers who keep dialogue open and develop a confidential process for arranging accommodations may encourage workers to get the support they need without compounding their symptoms or increasing their stress.

Part 2 of Accommodating Workers with Mental Illnesses will discuss how employers can promote mental health in the workplace, explain how workers can disclose that they have mental health challenges, and describe some accommodations that workers can use to stay healthy and productive.


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Accommodating Workers who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

The Employment Standard under the AODA requires employers to accommodate workers with disabilities.  Employers can make the workplace accessible for workers who are deaf or hard of hearing if they learn about the kinds of accommodations workers might need.

Here we outline some ways that employers and colleagues can communicate with and accommodate workers who are deaf or hard of hearing. Workers will explain the communication methods that work best for them.

Accommodating Workers who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

American Sign Language (ASL)

English-Canadian people who are Deaf often use American Sign Language (ASL). ASL is a visual language. For instance, signers convey meaning through:

  • Hand shapes and positions
  • Movements
  • Facial expressions

ASL is a complete language with its own grammar. Moreover, many people identify ASL as their first language and learn English as a second language. Workers may communicate with people who do not sign by either:

  • Speaking;
  • Gesturing; or
  • Writing

Sign Language Interpretation

Sign language interpreters are professionals who understand Deaf and hearing cultures. They are trained to interpret between signed and spoken languages. Employers or workers should arrange to have an interpreter at various work events. For instance, at:

  • Job interviews
  • Training
  • Meetings
  • Disciplinary Actions
  • Performance reviews

Ontario Interpreter Services (OIS) makes such events accessible. You must book an interpreter two to four weeks in advance. OIS will pay for interpretation for job interviews, up to seven hours of training, and three other sessions. However, employers are legally required to pay for later sessions. Interpreters only interpret: they do not offer opinions or advice.

When working with interpreters:

  • Address the worker, not the interpreter
  • Make sure the interpreter is always visible
  • Schedule one ten-minute break per hour before meetings start
  • Interpreters may ask fast speakers to clarify or repeat
  • Only one person should speak at a time
  • Sit in a circle or U-shape so the worker can see everyone

Other Communication Methods

Workers may also speechread. Speechreading is a way to understand speech through people’s:

  • Facial movements and expressions
  • Body language
  • Context

Workers attending group events, such as meetings, may use real-Time Captioning (RTC). A trained captioner records speech and it appears almost right away on a large screen. If RTC is not available for an event, a typist can summarize key points. This process is called computerized note-taking.

Employers or colleagues can communicate one-on-one by:

  • Exchanging notes on paper
  • Emailing
  • Texting

Also, confirm key points to make sure nothing vital is left out of notes.

People who are hard of hearing rely on their remaining hearing with the help of hearing aids, cochlear implants, or assistive listening devices. Hearing aids amplify sound, but they do not work for everyone. Cochlear implants are prostheses in people’s inner ears that transmit sound directly to the brain. People receive a great deal of training to learn to use their implants. Additionally, some people who have implants may continue to sign. Assistive listening devices transmit one speaker’s voice straight to a person’s ear and bypass background noise.

Communication Tips

Here are some communication tips when speaking to workers who are deaf or hard of hearing:

  • Attract workers’ attention, such as waving or by tapping the floor, their desks, or their shoulders
  • Maintain eye contact
  • Speak at a normal pace and volume
  • Stay on topic
  • Sit near the worker while remaining professional
  • Stay still while speaking
  • Always leave the worker’s hands-free to write or sign
  • Converse in well-lit areas with little background noise

Workers may frown as they focus on speech, or use facial expressions that have certain meanings in ASL rather than to express emotions. Of course, the best way to understand a worker’s state of mind, simply ask.

Workers who are hard of hearing may sometimes speak too loudly, or respond verbally in ways that do not fit the discussion because they have not heard correctly.


Some people who are hard of hearing can use telephones with hearing aids or cochlear implants. Others use them with amplifiers that interact with certain hearing aids to diminish background noise and increase ringing and conversation volume, or with lights or vibrations that signal when the telephone rings. Some people who are Deaf use TTYs (teletypewriters), devices carrying typed conversation over telephone lines. Furthermore, TTY users can contact someone who does not use TTY through a telephone relay operator. In addition, workers with hearing impairments may also use video relay service (VRS) to communicate over the Internet in ASL with smartphones or computers.

Interpreters are available so that service-users can call or receive calls from people who do not sign. Some workers may prefer to reassign job tasks so that a hearing person answers the telephone while they perform other tasks.

Employers will gain skilled and dedicated workers by accommodating workers who are deaf or hard of hearing. They will also show any current workers losing their hearing that they value the presence and well-being of those members of the company.


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