At-a-glance: ACED first-phase findings

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Accommodating and Communicating about Episodic Disabilities (ACED) is a five-year partnership (June 2018 to May 2023)—one of nine partnerships funded by Healthy & Productive Work (HPW), a joint initiative of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. 

Prior to the formal start of the five-year partnership, a team led by the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) was funded to do exploratory work in preparation for full HPW funding. This is referred to as the “first phase” of ACED (June 2016 to May 2018), during which team members interviewed people who could help them better understand the challenges and issues surrounding the accommodation of people with episodic disabilities.

Because previous research on this topic had primarily gathered the perspectives of employees, the IWH research team concentrated on gathering the perspectives of workplace stakeholders—a diverse group that included disability managers, human resources professionals, labour lawyers, union representatives, worker advocates, occupational health professionals, managers and employers. Some of these people also identified as a person with an episodic disability.

Interviews point to seven key challenges

Through the interviews, the team identified seven key challenges and issues related to the accommodation and communication of episodic disabilities.

  1. Similarities and differences among episodic disabilities highlighted the many similarities in disability support, but a small number of differences focusing on workplace relationships.
  2. Organizational cultures of workplace support meant that organizations differed in whether their workplaces had a more “medical” or “bio-psychosocial” model of disability.
  3. Misgivings about others and their role in communication-support processes focused on perceptions of varied skills, training and motivation.
  4. Subjective perceptions of the workplace parties highlighted that there are real people behind workplace policies.
  5. The inherent complexity of the response process emphasized how the intermittent and invisible nature of episodic disabilities makes workplace planning a challenge.
  6. Challenges arising when employees deny a disability often created stress and led to a re-framing of a disability as a performance issue.
  7. Casting disability as a performance problem could lead to progressive disciplinary actions and not recognizing the skills and abilities of workers.

The handout available to download on this page offers a graphic summary of these interview findings.

Resource scan identifies gaps

During the first phase, the research team also scanned existing workplace resources that addressed the accommodation of people with episodic disabilities. It identified three broad-based gaps among the 200-plus different publicly available workplace resources.

  1. Most resources address only one episodic condition and, therefore, are less widely applicable to other episodic conditions.
  2. Condition-specific tools may undermine an employee’s privacy through the sharing of that condition-specific tool.
  3. Very few tools are interactive or personalizable.

The team concluded there is a strong need for evidence-based, interactive tools designed for employees with episodic disabilities and the workplace parties who support them to:

  • promote communication and its appropriate timing while protecting worker privacy and worker preferences related to sharing information;
  • assess job demands and create tailored accommodation plans, as well as provide guidance on monitoring them over time; and
  • meet the needs of workers with diverse episodic conditions and a wide range of workplace needs and cultures.