Written by Louis E. Orslene, MPIA, MSW, Co-Director - JAN (Job Accommodation Network)
BYOD! (Bring Your Own Device)
There is much discussion in the workplace about “Bring Your Own Device to Work” or “BYOD,” as it is now more commonly known. Employers increasingly find themselves under pressure to allow employees to bring their own assistive devices to work. Employers typically refer to cell phones and tablets in their discussion of BYOD. However, an informal poll of JAN Consultants suggests BYOD has much broader application in the workplace than just cell phones and tablets.
Cell phones and tablets often provide the best solution for receiving and conveying information for today’s mobile workforce. With the proliferation of apps, particularly those used to accommodate workers, employers have become perplexed about developing and administering BYOD policies.
Primary to employer’s concerns is safeguarding corporate data. A recent article in Workforce.com suggests that developing a policy on how employees are allowed to access corporate information “is an important initial step to keeping an organization’s data safe" (June 23, 2014). This dilemma is of course not a new one. Many employers have firewalls that prevent employees from viewing third party webcast training, using video phones, or making specific assistive technology (e.g., screen readers) operate with legacy information systems. While the corporate data safety concern and the tactics to protect that data are not new, the use of mobile devices and the proliferation of assistive technologies in the workplace is more recent.
Security was also of concern to JAN Consultants following a quick, unscientific poll regarding BYOD. A JAN Consultant reported:
“Sometimes employers do not feel able to allow employees to bring devices from home. For example, employees in classified settings and other security sensitive settings may be restricted in the types of devices that they can use at work, leading the employer to purchase a different type of device for use at work. Devices with wireless functionality may be restricted, or magnifiers with freeze frame or image storage capabilities may be restricted.”
JAN Consultants serving on the Motor, Sensory, Mental Health, Cognitive, and ADA Team conduct more than 42,000 consultations per year. In the ad hoc poll, the Sensory and Motor Teams reported receiving BYOD inquiries “fairly often.” This is no doubt because many of the accommodations suggested by the teams are product-based solutions. Below is a list of assistive technologies most often discussed with JAN employer customers. Note that many of the devices employees have asked to bring into and use in the workplace are not necessarily assistive technology in the strictest sense.
A list of technologies reported by JAN Consultants include:
augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) or hearing related device such as the UbiDuo,
assistive listening devices,
Bluetooth streaming devices needed to access a phone with Bluetooth enabled hearing aid,
humidifiers for respiratory conditions,
heaters, fans, warming devices (heated mice/keyboards),
anti-fatigue matting for shoes,
mobility devices (that they do not use at home),
personal air purifier,
alternative soaps and cleaning supplies,
color overlays, and
Excerpts from the Consultant feedback received during this poll was instructive. These excerpts included information about how the assistive technology was provided to the employee:
"Through insurance, private pay, or vocational rehabilitation rather than requested as accommodations. Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) devices are almost always brought from home in work settings. Sometimes the individual has had the device customized to meet physical access or other needs or they may have difficulty adjusting to a different type of device. "
JAN Consultants reported that some Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) counselors think it is better for devices to be acquired through VR to simplify the accommodation process or to ensure access to the application process. For example, in Virginia there is a pilot program to purchase iPods and apps for individuals to use at work and home with apps customized to their particular challenges. Ownership is transferred to the individual users and they are responsible for replacements and upgrades if needed. Typical uses include time manage/organization, stress management, and customized video modeling of workplace tasks and appropriate social interactions.
JAN Consultants also report employers have asked employees to bring in their own devices. For instance, an employer requested that an employee bring in his personal portable digital magnifier rather than the employer providing one. Or an employer requested an employee who uses a Bluetooth hearing aid bring in her own Bluetooth streamers needed to access a phone communication at work. Interestingly enough, one Consultant reported a situation where one employer attempted to restrict employees with Bluetooth hearing aids from wearing them at work. However, the employer revoked this restriction when the possibility of having to purchase alternate hearing aids was raised.
The staff of CIO.com write, “BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) promises many benefits such as greater innovation, better work-life balance and improved productivity, but it also increases pressure on IT to manage and secure devices and data.” In the new mobile workplace where a multitude of overlapping technologies are being used, one can only expect that BYOD challenges will continue to increase. This is particularly true in light of the use of tablets and apps to accommodate employees with disabilities. Thus, it behooves employers to begin to develop clear policies and practices governing assistive technologies including cell phones and tablets.
- Louis E. Orslene, MPIA, MSW, Co-Director