Project overview

Accommodating and Communicating about Episodic Disabilities (ACED) is a five-year research project bringing together researchers and community partners to develop evidence-based workplace tools, resources and training programs to support the sustained employment of people with episodic disabilities.

What are episodic disabilities?

Episodic disabilities are long-term health conditions that are characterized by periods of good health interrupted by periods of poor health. These periods of illness and disability may vary in severity, length and predictability. Episodic disabilities may also be invisible to others.

Some examples of episodic disability include depression, anxiety disorders, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, Crohn's, colitis, hepatitis C, chronic fatigue syndrome, migraines, chronic pain and some forms of cancer.

Many of the most common chronic diseases in Canada and other developed countries can be characterized as episodic disabilities. Taken together, episodic disabilities are among the most common and costly conditions in Canada.

Why is this project needed?

Because episodic conditions are often unpredictable and invisible to others, with symptoms that fluctuate from one period in time to another, they create unique challenges in managing workplace disabilities. In particular, episodic disabilities present challenges to workers, supervisors, disability managers and human resources personnel in balancing:

  • workplace health communication and the protection of worker privacy; and
  • worker needs for support or accommodations and workplace productivity.

Given how common episodic disabilities are, workplaces are becoming increasingly aware of the need to support employees with these conditions in order to ensure they can productively remain in the workforce. Canadian workplaces are seeking knowledge and understanding of the ways in which they can communicate with employees with episodic disabilities and best support them in managing their disabilities while working and remaining productive.

In turn, workers with episodic conditions are also seeking guidance. They want to know if, how and when they should communicate their need for workplace supports, without fear of being stigmatized, losing their privacy or jeopardizing their job.

What will the project accomplish?

This project aims to improve the work sustainability and support provided to Canadians with episodic mental and physical health conditions through the development of practical, easy-to access, evidence-based tools, resources and training that protects privacy and facilitates communication and accommodation planning among workers, supervisors and other workplace parties.

Specifically, the objectives are:

  • to consolidate and enhance existing research evidence on communicating about and accommodating episodic disabilities in the workplace;
  • to develop a toolkit of new evidence-informed resources that will include a communication decision-making tool, interactive job analysis and accommodation planning tool, and skills training workshops for supervisors and HR/disability managers;
  • to pilot test and evaluate the toolkit in a wide range of workplaces, as well as do a cost analysis on the toolkit's implementation in the workplace; 
  • to expand the base of research evidence to pay greater attention to the implications of differences in sex/gender, age/life course, employment contexts and episodic conditions;
  • to improve research capacity in the field of disability studies; and
  • to build new workplace partnerships for testing and disseminating research evidence and tools.

The development of the ACED toolkit is at the heart of the project. The toolkit will provide guidance to workers with episodic disabilities, as well as their employers, managers, supervisors, disability managers and human resources personnel.

The toolkit will be easy to access, personalized, interactive and evidence-based. It will include tools that address two main workplace challenges:

  • communication decision-making: personalized decision tools on whether and how to communicate needs in the workplace, conversation templates, and skills training and coaching workshops; and
  • job demands and accommodation planning needs: an interactive job analysis tool with accommodation examples, and a module on monitoring changes in needs over time.

Who is this project for?

This findings of the studies conducted as part of this project, as well as the tools and resources that flow from them, will be relevant to workers with chronic, episodic conditions, employers, human resources professionals, disability managers, occupational health professionals, insurers, government bodies, and community organizations focused on aging, employment, disability and/or caregiving.

The project's findings and tools will be relevant to programs aimed at reducing at-work disability, improving work productivity and ensuring the employment sustainability of Canadian workers with episodic disabilities.