ATU320 – MAS (Mobile Accommodation Solution) App with Louis Orslene of the Job Accommodation Network – JAN


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ATU320 – MAS (Mobile Accommodation Solution) App with Louis Orslene of the Job Accommodation Network – JAN

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LOUIS ORSLENE:  Hi, this is Lou Orslene, codirector of the Job Accommodation Network, more commonly known as JAN, and this is your Assistive Technology Update.

WADE WINGLER:  Hi, this is Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals crossroads in Indiana with your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up-to-date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

Welcome to episode number 320 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on July 14, 2017.

Today I have a conversation with Lou Orslene who is the codirector of the Job Accommodation Network. He’s going to tell us about MAS, Mobile Accommodation Solution, which is a new app scheduled to come out fall 2017 to facilitate that job accommodation process. We hope you check out our website at, give us a note on Twitter at INDATA Project, or leave a voicemail on our listener line at 317-721-7124.


Not long ago, I saw a press release for a thing called mobile accommodation solution. I knew it was a project that included JAN and some other organizations. I said, hey, I know those guys and they do great work, plus it’s about assisting with the job accommodation process. Our organization here at Easter Seals crossroads in Indianapolis has been doing job accommodation for a long time. When I saw the stuff, I was immediately interested and asked that we reach out to Lou who is the codirector of the job accommodation network and also working on the MAS project. He agreed at the last minute and graciously to pop on the show and talk with us about that a little bit.

Enough of my rambling, Lou, welcome to the show. Thanks for being here.

LOUIS ORSLENE:  Thank you very much and thanks for the opportunity to talk about MAS. We’re pretty excited about the launch later in the year.

WADE WINGLER:  Before we talk about MAS, let’s talk about you a little bit. Tell folks a little bit about who you are, your role with JAN, and how you got there. There may be some folks in our audience who may not be familiar with JAN, so can you give us a sketch of that?

LOUIS ORSLENE:  Let me say how I came to JAN first of all. I had an interest since early on in life on disability and employment, in particular the nexus between the needs of employers and the abilities of people with disabilities. My interest really started when my father was blinded when I was young in a coal mine accident. I grew up in a small coal mine community and southwestern Pennsylvania. My father was blinded in a coal mine accident. He worked as a vocational rehabilitation counselor from the state of Pennsylvania, was really successful was his rehabilitation, went on to work with people with disabilities at a local arc. His love was always coal mining and the union. After he worked a couple of local jobs, he was then recruited to work with United mine workers of America and went on to be director of organizing for the UMWA and went all over the country doing a lot of press for them.

I have seen it firsthand. I’ve seen it work. I’ve seen rehabilitation counseling work firsthand. I know it can happen, but I know that people just need to be open-minded about it. For instance, my father went back to college after he was medically stabilized and able to work again. He got a college degree from California University of Pennsylvania. That was a leap of faith at that time. We were talking 1972 copy for any of the ADA legislation, pre-Rehab Act of ’73. The University decided to accommodate him to provide readers and other equipment so that he would be able to successfully complete his classwork, which he did very well. He went on to do some masters work as well.

Seeing that success, mind you, I’ve also seen failure. I’ve seen a member of my family who has epilepsy, and that’s still not very well accepted and stigmatized in workplaces. I’ve seen it not work so well either. That’s been my history.

WADE WINGLER:  It’s interesting pure you and I have been acquainted for years now. I don’t think I’ve heard the story about your dad. You piqued my interest because that’s a very interesting perspective to have. When we think about people with disabilities and employment, you don’t always think about that from the perspective of a child looking at your dad. That’s a different perspective and probably one of more empowerment on his part and an interesting perspective with you as his son observing that, which I think speaks to your spirit and serves you well in this role. That’s a great story.


WADE WINGLER:  Tell us a little bit about what you do at JAN and what JAN does for folks who don’t know, then we will jump into the MAS project.

LOUIS ORSLENE:  I’ve been working with JAN for over 20 years. I was a consultant on the psychiatric cognitive team and then took and administered of role. Today I serve as one of the codirectors. I share the directorship with Anne Hirsch. What JAN does is provide one-on-one consulting regarding place accommodation and also disability legislation from an employer’s protective. If an employer calls us, they can dial our 800 number, they will press three, and our phone tree that gives them a program assistant that asks what kind of disability or issue they are dealing with. Then they go to one of our teams. We had a cognitive team, psychiatric team, motor E team, and sensory team. All of our team members have education at either a Masters level or PhD level. Typically what we do is coach the employer through the accommodation process, the interaction process, making sure they don’t run afoul of any legislation copied and also proposing a job accommodation along the way. By the end of that consultation, I typically sent out an email with companies that make – if we discussed assistive technology, then we will send an email out listing those assistive technologies and where they can be purchased.

Our main customer, about 60 percent of our consultations are done with employers. Then about 30 percent, our second largest customer, are individuals with disabilities often calling us wanting to understand their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, wanting to know if they have to disclose and when and how to disclose. Then finally we coach them through submitting a request for accommodation if that’s their choice. That’s the kind of services we provide.

We also have an expensive website, pretty comprehensive publications on everything from accommodating arthritis to wheelchair use and vision impairments. We have a searchable online accommodation resource for those that would prefer to hop online and put in a disability and see the accommodations that are typically offered for those types of accommodations.

We also provide training, virtual training. We have a just in time library of canned training that are fully accessible and the respect that they are within our Adobe connect software platform and they do have captions that run along with the webcast.

Then we provide free webcasts on topical issues on accommodations. Once every quarter, we invite an employer customer that we have had success with, and we let them count their success and talk about how they did it and how they became more inclusive and how they were able to hire and retain people with disabilities.

All of our services are free and funded through the US Department of Labor’s office of disability employment policy. People can reach us through various channels. They could call us, they could use our online chat, they could call Skype us, text us. We also have a virtual office in Second Life. There are various ways people can reach as and use our consultation services.

WADE WINGLER:  What is the web address?

LOUIS ORSLENE: And if I could also talk for a minute from the employer’s perspective. Over the last year, we done a number of focus groups with employers. We wanted to touch base and see where they are with their policies and procedures. We had received a number of requests from employers asking us to review their policies and procedures. The result of that became the job accommodation workplace toolkit. That was released last fall and we’ve seen many page views and also a number of unique visitors to that site. We think that it’s serving the employer community well. Although, if one looks at the toolkit – and if you go to the, and in the search box put in toolkit, it will be the first thing that pulls up – there are three drawers to that toolkit. The first one is aimed at talent acquisition and managers. Then there is a drawer for accommodation specialists. And then the third drawer is for employees or employee resource groups.

WADE WINGLER:  There is always great stuff happening over at JAN. It sounds like you are continuing the great work. I want to shift our topic a little bit and get into the MAS project. I know it is an app and is going to continue to support a lot of the activities that JAN has done over the years. Talk to me about MAS. What is it?

LOUIS ORSLENE:  Let me start out from the beginning of it. We have found over the years that, again, the people that are least supported and have the least amount of training and education in inclusion are talent acquisition staff and supervisors. Training is always an issue. Employers have many demands before them that they need to do in order to comply with various legislation. We know that finding the time to really train the talent acquisition staff and supervisors is challenging. However, what we found is that we had developed over the years a lot of good resources. While those resources seem to have influenced people in HR, people in employee relations, people in diversity and inclusion, it had really not been driven down and we are still not seeing the impact with the people who are really receiving the disclosure request form people with disabilities requesting accommodations for work. We’ve really been seeing this need over the years.

A few years ago, we looked at this issue intently and first of all started looking at the resources we had on the website. We were thinking we really need to create an easy, free app that people can just download onto their mobile devices and can use in the field. This was also driven by we were seeing more and more people really out in the field, office list kind of companies that people were tele-working, or by the nature of their work, large financial companies, that their workers were out in the field. We saw this need for having a mobile device. What we didn’t want it simply to be is to be another website. We didn’t want it to be just a micro site where people can access our resources. What we wanted to do is build an app that would have all of the best practices that we’ve discovered over the years, so it would be built in, and by using the app people would be using those best practices. Those best practices, much like the toolkit I described earlier, would be institutionalized into organizations. We really felt this was the best approach to take.

Finding funding and a partner for that was somewhat challenging. It took two or three years, much longer than we really anticipated. But we knew there was a need for this and it was really important for somebody to put out there.

We had also done an environmental scan. We wanted to see if anyone else had thought of this idea or was putting something out like this. We could not find another app. We could find enterprise-level, sort of the Cadillac of accommodation tools. At an enterprise level, you could internally cut through your PC, manage your accommodations. We have seen that. There is Simplicity, there is IBM’s workplace accommodation connections tool. There are a number of tools that are out there, but they are all very large, pretty expensive and at the enterprise level.

What we wanted was something sort of for the grassroots folks, the people that are supervisors and the people that are talent acquisition who in a moment can open the app and it really be able to use the app to facilitate the interactive process. By facilitating it through the app, they would learn all of those best practices. They can also case manage. Much beyond our best practices, they would have a tool where they could enter people’s requests for commendation and they could see how they’ve progressed through our six step accommodation process that has tips built into it along the way. They could monitor the accommodation and capture the conversations around accommodation which is so vitally important as you move through that interactive process. First of all, to show they are making a good-faith effort, the second of all, it’s difficult in a mobile environment. We all work in that environment. There are so many conversations along the way that you really need to capture. It’s impossible for us to remember all of that.

This becomes their case management tool, their facilitator of the interactive process. We believe that with this tool that it will be that much more easy for people to embrace these practices and for them to successfully provide accommodations. Again, because we’re not really able to train all the people in all of the intricacies of the interactive process, we know it can be difficult at times. There is difficult conversations. Sometimes creativity is limited. You are limited by the time that you have. So we believe that the tool can really assist in overcoming those barriers and therefore really get more people employed and ensure that more people are retained whenever they run into those challenges that disability creates in the workplace.

WADE WINGLER:  That process is an important one. You are right. I’m not aware of tools that handle that at a grassroots level either. I’m excited to hear about that. Give me information about the features from the employer’s protective. What’s the user experience going to be like and what kind of features might they use?

LOUIS ORSLENE:  First of all, it will be free. It will be downloadable from the App Store. It will be available in both iOS as well as android. The user experience will be that they will download the app, and then they will be our splash screen that will be the entry point for the app. You will need to determine whether you are coming in it from the employer’s perspective, the rehabilitation professional perspective, or the employee or individual looking for a job, their perspective. Then the tools will flow from there.

Let’s say you are an employer. Of course the first thing that you are able to answer is someone an employee, is disclosing to you, then you are able to enter all the information into the notes section and the demographic information into the website. Then if the person proposes accommodations, says that this has worked for me in the past, or I’ve used this assistive technology in the past, then you are able to enter that. From there, there is a suite of forms. There is an accommodation form that you can then provide to the employee to flesh out and provide more information. There is an approval form, a denial form, and appeals form. There are a few other forms as well. One can fill out those forms and store those, and each of those follow the person that is requesting an accommodation. If there are any documentation that someone provided you with medical information, then you’re able to indicate that and store the information in the app. It really is very comprehensive in containing all of the information you need to make decisions and move forward with the accommodation. You are also more readily able to contact the JAN consultants either through phone or chat through the app so that you can then discuss the ideas, see you can quickly get a form filled out, and that the employee or prospective employee doesn’t really have ideas about what kind of accommodation might work in this specific industry setting, then you have access to all of the JAN resources. I think that is another really nice add on and value add to the app.

WADE WINGLER:  As somebody who has provided lots of job accommodation services, I am smiling. As my organizations HIPAA security officer, I am squirming a little bit in my seat. Talk to me about privacy and the data and how that is handled.

LOUIS ORSLENE:  This is one of the first things that we looked at. When we first to develop the idea and the concept, we were really thinking everything was going to be cloud-based and that we could manage all of the information from here. But over the last two years, there have been so many breaches of very large organizations with very secure databases. We became less and less secure that that was really the approach that we wanted to take. If major employers cannot keep their databases secure, then how would they have confidence in us maintaining this cloud. They are right, because we are doing this with very little money.

We decided at that point with the cooperation of IBM to take a different approach. We decided that all of the information would be native to the mobile device so that all of the information would be secured to that device. Most of us use passwords for our devices. If they are lost, no one is able to access that. But what we did want to then make sure is that all of the information that was stored also could be downloaded more locally into legacy information systems or could be downloaded in such a way that if the device were lost, you would still have those records. We have ensured that information from the app can be downloaded. It can be printed. It can be emailed. The email function is really a good fiction as well because often in the interactive process, you are emailing information back and forth. You’re capturing the information, you’re able to use it, it has great functionality in terms of providing communication between parties. But then you are able to say the information. Again, it is all saved natively to the mobile device. When we release the app, we expect security to be a big issue and to be a big concern. We want to explain that to everybody that they are in charge of the security and information. Even information they will be pulling from JAN in terms of our specific resources and technical assistance, that will all be native to the app. Nothing will be connected to the Internet or to any cloud which would really create those security issues.

WADE WINGLER:  I feel better now.

LOUIS ORSLENE:  Is that a good – we are just putting it out there and hoping that people feel much better about that. I’m glad to hear that.

WADE WINGLER:  Especially since you can back it up locally in email it to a secure email system. I feel good about that.

LOUIS ORSLENE:  Good to hear.

WADE WINGLER:  We are just about out of time for the interview. I need to know when is this thing going to be available. Remind us what platforms it will be on and how we can get a hold of it.

LOUIS ORSLENE:  The two platforms will be iOS and android. Right now we are doing internal testing. The app is pretty much done. We are doing internal testing. We’ve done some beta testing at enabling conference. We will be doing external testing in September. We are expecting to launch iOS in the last quarter of 2017 and then the android version 1st quarter of 2018.

I would also be remiss in letting folks know who’s involved in this. While JAN is a driver, this is funded from NIDLER at the Department of Health and human services. It is a field development project through them. It is in partnership with IBM. Also we partnered with a number of groups that we thought could inform and also test the application. We have the Disability Management Employers Coalition, American Association of People with Disabilities, the US Business Leadership Network, the National Business and Disability Counsel, and CSAVR, which is the coordinating to body for all the states vocational rehabilitation agencies. I really want to thank them for being involved in the project. Each group has brought a different perspective to the tools that are needed and to the testing. We as a team are very grateful for their participation and grateful for IBM. We approached a number of companies with the idea. I’m not sure that everyone saw the value in it. When we worked with a former global accessibility officer at IBM, when I mentioned it to Francis West, Francis was enthused about it. I want to make sure I get Francis credit and IBM credit for their willingness to explore this with us.

WADE WINGLER:  It sounds like a great project, a great team, and it sounds like we are going to have a great tool to add to our arsenal when it comes out. Lou Orslene is the codirector at the JAN, has been leading the efforts for the master project. Inks for being on the show.

LOUIS ORSLENE:  Thanks for the opportunity. I appreciate it.

WADE WINGLER:  Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? Call our listener line at 317-721-7124, shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject, or check us out on Facebook. Looking for a transcript or show notes from today’s show? Head on over to Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. Find more shows like this plus much more over at That was your Assistance Technology Update. I’m Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana.

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