Transcript: Workplace Accommodation Consultation Series: Acquisition of IT-Related Adaptive Products and Services
[The animated white Canada School of Public Service logo appears on a purple background. Its pages turn, opening it like a book. A maple leaf appears in the middle of the book that also resembles a flag with curvy lines beneath. Text is beside it.]
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[It fades out, replaced by a Zoom video call. The video window for the moderator, Isabelle Racine, fills the screen. She is a white woman with shoulder-length straight blonde hair and a light pink blazer over a white shirt. Isabelle has a pale blue Zoom background with black text reading, "National Managers' Community/Communauté nationale des gestionnaires. Connect, Engage, Collaborate/Rassembler/Mobiliser/Collaborer." A purple text box in the bottom left corner identifies her: "Isabelle Racine, National Managers' Community."]
Isabelle Racine [IR]: Welcome to the Canada School of Public Service. My name is Isabelle Racine and I am the executive director of the National Managers' Community, the NMC. I will be the moderator for today's discussion. Welcome to the second event of this series on workplace accommodation consultation. Today's event is entitled Acquisition of IT Related Adaptive Products and Services. I would like to begin by acknowledging that since I am located in Gatineau, Quebec, the land on which we gather is a traditional and unceded territory of the Anishinabewaki, Mohawk, and Omàmìwininìwag Algonquin people. I recognize that we all work in different places and therefore on a different traditional Indigenous territory. I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on this.
[Isabelle pauses for a moment.]
We have a great discussion planned for you and want you to have the best possible experience. Please log off your VPN to help you experience the event at its fullest. If you're experiencing technical issues, it is recommended that you relaunch a webcast link provided. Please note you have been sent a PowerPoint that will be presented today. Please refer to the reminder email you received which happened to have the link to download the document. Also, throughout the event, you may submit your questions by clicking on the icon that looks like a raised hand. Towards the end of the event, we have planned some time for a question and answer period. I will now hand it over to Mr. Arun Thangaraj, associate DM at Transport Canada and deputy minister champion for the NMC. Over to you, Arun.
[Two more video windows appear alongside Isabelle's. In one is Arun, a man with brown skin and a trim gray beard. Arun wears a blue and white patterned shirt. He sits in an office, and behind him are two desktop computers, as well as a table and chairs. Arun smiles. His window fills the screen. A purple text box in the bottom left corner identifies him: "Arun Thangaraj, Transport Canada."]
Arun Thangaraj [AT]: Thanks, Isabelle. Welcome to everybody and glad you are with us. The NMC is happy to join the discussion today as we work together to build a diverse, equitable, and inclusive public service. In order to reach this goal, the
NMC wants to hear from you, and we want to provide you with useful tools, resources, and learning opportunities to help you better support and manage your teams. I think one of the things that I wanted to underscore today is the need to support and encourage your staff who are volunteering for employee networks dedicated to fighting racism and discrimination effecting visible minorities and other groups.
We have seen numerous organized grassroots groups in organizations who are advocating for anti-racist actions and those are aligned with the priorities of the government. We need to give time and space to these employees to allow them to participate in these various initiatives since the actions will contribute towards the elimination of systemic racism in our workplace. Since the Clerk of the Privy Council's call to action on anti-racism, equity, and inclusion in the federal public service, he's also stated that we should be deploying as much effort towards the elimination of racism as we are currently using to fight COVID-19.
As we work towards these government priorities, I trust today's event will provide you with additional tools and information that will help you support employees who require adaptive technology. The Accessibility, Accommodation and Adaptive Computer Technology program at Shared Services Canada offers a service that provides a wide range of expertise to federal public servants, including how to effectively acquire and implement IT related accommodations. It is clear that we need to find constructive ways to support the government of Canada's efforts on diversity and inclusion and to make our own teams better, stronger, healthier, and more welcoming to all.
The NMC is also working with PSE and HRC on an initiative for the recruitment of 500,000... sorry, 5,000—500,000 would be good, too—
—5,000 persons with disabilities. The recruitment process has been launched and additional information will be shared with managers once candidate pools are available. I encourage you to ask a lot of questions at the end of the session and continue to stay connected with the MC and, again, to move the yardsticks forward on this issue as well as other issues of diversity and inclusion. Please continue to be part of the stuff that the NMC does to have your voice heard and so that we're in a better position to meet your needs. Thank you and back to you, Isabelle.
[The other participants' windows reappear.]
IR: Thank you, Arun, for these words. I would now like to introduce you to Yazmine Laroche, deputy minister Office of the Public Service Accessibility or OPSA, Treasury Board Secretariat of Canada, for her opening remarks. DM Laroche will also provide a brief introduction. Over to you, Yazmine.
[Yazmine is an olive-skinned woman with short, wavy dark hair. She wears red glasses and a multicoloured plaid blouse. Her background is a purple screen with seven icons of different colours in the top left, each displaying a different accessibility tool, such as a cane, a hearing aid, and a wheelchair. White text below the symbols reads, "#nothingwithoutus | #riensansnous." In the top right corner, white text reads, "The future is accessible/L'avenir est accessible." Yazmine smiles.]
Yazmine Laroche [YL]: Merci beaucoup, Isabelle. Thank you so much and thank you, Arun, for setting this up so beautifully. Hi, everybody. I am so happy to be part of this event.
[Yazmine's window fills the screen.]
I'm really hoping that this is part of an ongoing series of work that we're doing that's going to help increase disability confidence and make things better for you as managers and for your employees. Really thrilled that you're joining us for this workplace accommodation consultation series today. It was wonderful to be with you for the first session back in April, and we're now going to dive into part two, and really delighted to have this collaboration with the National Managers' Community.
[A purple text box identifies her: "Yazmine Laroche, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat."]
For those of you who might be joining for the first time, the idea behind the series was to respond to some of the feedback that we got from public service employees and from managers through the 2019 benchmarking study of workplace accommodations, as well as the NMC managers' learning needs survey. What we heard was managers wanted more information and more resources on workplace accommodation, on adaptive technology, and on accessible procurement. In the first session, we shared some really interesting findings from that benchmarking study.
One of the things that we learned was that when employees have access to timely and effective accommodations, it leads to increased productivity as well as improvements in mental health and morale and future career prospects. The other thing we learned was that more than half of the accommodation requests involved at least one piece of adaptive technology. But managers said they didn't have enough information. They didn't know how to go about and get this set up for their employees. That brings us to today's session.
Today, you're going to hear from the wonderful people from the Accessibility, Accommodation and Adaptive Computer Technology program at Shared Services Canada, although I really liked the acronym, AAACT. These guys are internationally recognized and their service is available to all federal public servants. They offer an amazing array of expertise and support. They're doing wonderful work and they're here to support you. AAACTs also put together a handbook that gives step-by-step guidance on how to access their support and what types of IT related adaptive products and services are available for employees. You can find all of this on our accessibility hub on the accommodations page, along with a whole lot of other really good resources.
I know from personal experience that the accommodation process can be very complex and very time-consuming. And that's why our fund, the Centralized Enabling Workplace Fund, is investing in solutions like the accessibility passport and the Lending Library to make things a little bit easier. And recently in March, the Comptroller General and I issued new guidance to all deputy heads and all CFOs to encourage the use of our acquisition cards to purchase low dollar value accommodation-related items and services. I think this is going to be a game changer. This is going to help you equip employees much faster so that they can work to their full potential in the best possible way.
As you think about today's event, I'd really like you to think also about what are you doing to help build that sense of inclusion and belonging, and what might you be able to do to help break down some of the barriers that people with disabilities face in the workplace. I'm counting on you. Managers play such an important role. You're leaders right across the public service, right across the country. And so I'm asking you to please help us make sure that our federal public service is the most accessible and inclusive one in the world.
I'd really like to thank our partners at the National Managers' Community and the Canada School of Public Service for hosting this learning series. And of course, to the remarkable AAACT for the resources of expertise that they're going to be sharing with you today. I wish you the very best. Ask tons of questions and let's look forward to this session and many more to come. Thanks, everybody.
[Isabelle's window reappears beside Yazmine's, and they both smile.]
IR: Thank you, Yazmine. I would now like to introduce Jeffrey Stark and Sean Lavallee from Shared Services Canada who'll be presenting the content for today.
[Isabelle's window fills the screen.]
Jeffrey is the AAACT program manager and Sean is the client service and adaptive computer technology team leader. Over to you, Jeff and Sean.
[A PowerPoint presentation fills three quarters of the screen. On a dark blue and purple background, white text reads, "Office of Public Service Accessibility (OPSA). Information Session on Workplace Accommodations (Part 2): Acquisition of IT-Related Adaptive Products and Services." To the left of the text is a logo of a Canadian maple leaf, with its lower half stylized to look like a wifi symbol of a dot with three increasingly large lines moving away from it. The leaf is in a dark blue circle. To the right of the title slide, a small window displays Jeffrey Stark's name.]
Jeffrey Stark [JS]: Excellent. Thank you very much. Just to get people started, I'm going to highlight again that in the email there are links to files, too, that we'll be talking about today. One is the presentation in its fullness because we're not going to cover every slide. We have 40 slides in there and we wanted to make sure we had all the information you might need. We might jump a little bit along the way. And the other is the guide that we've talked about, because essentially a guide has been created through consultation and co-collaboration and stakeholder engagement. Essentially, this is not just our guide, it's your guide.
[The slide changes. The next slide is titled, "Why are we here?" Three bullet points follow:
- "The 2019 Benchmarking Study of Workplace Accommodations in the Federal Public Service highlighted managers' need for more information and resources regarding:
- Workplace accommodations
- Acquisition of adaptive IT-related equipment and services
- Accessible procurement
- The 2021-2021 Learning Needs Survey conducted by the National Managers Community (NMC) reinforced this need
- This session is the second in a three-part series developed by the Office of Public Service Accessibility (OPSA), in partnership with Public Services and Procurement Canada (Accessible Procurement Resource Centre) and Shared Service Canada (Accessibility, Accommodation and Adaptive Computing Technologies program) to address this need."]
Really, it's to try and answer some of the most basic questions that we run into day in, day out. "Where do I get started? What do I do?"
And that's what we're going to do today. We're going to cover a lot of different topics really quickly. But we left lots of room for questions at the end. Starting off, talking about the fact that we have a lot of different actions in play at the interdepartmental level in the GC to try and reduce barriers, to try and simplify acquisition, to try and build inclusion into the information communication technology products that we get. We're trying to populate information in the right places so people can make the right decisions as early as possible.
A great example of that is where Sean's team just finished doing an evaluation of all the laptops and mobile devices and tablets and things that we give to employees or that we make available in the government of Canada and looked at it with the disability inclusion lens and adaptive technology compatibility side of things. It's published in the same spot, all the information for those results, published in the same spot as an IT person would go to actually buy the laptop in the IT Pro tool.
Essentially, we're doing some things behind the scenes to make it easier. We're doing some things to build inclusion in by default. Things are just accessible so we don't have to put our hands up. We're doing some things to try and enable areas, like managers and employees along their journey of figuring out what accommodations are going to work best in the workplace. I figured it's probably good to give you a little bit of a starting point about who is AAACT and what do we do.
[Slide three is titled "Objectives." Three bullet points follow:
- "Introduce key partner in the acquisition of IT-related adaptive products and services to support timely and effective workplace accommodation solutions for your employees:
- Shared Services Canada (SSC):
- Accessibility, Accommodation and Adaptive Computer Technology (AAACT) Program
- Present an overview of transformational work in the acquisition of IT-related adaptive products and services
- Provide information on available services and resources, and how to access them."]
And then we'll talk a little bit about the process. We'll talk a little bit about duty to accommodate, we'll talk a little bit about the guide itself that I've mentioned and process, and then we'll get into some examples of one category of disability and some of the tools that are in use in that space. We've left lots of time for questions.
So, from our side, where would you start? Why would you come talk to AAACT?
[Jeff clicks past four slides, titled "Background, Context, and Partners," "2019 Benchmarking Study on Workplace Accommodations 1/2," "2019 Benchmarking Study on Workplace Accommodations 2/2," and "2019 Benchmarking Study on
Workplace Accommodations Study Results." He stops on slide eight, "What is the AAACT Program." It reads,
- "The Accessibility, Accommodation & Adaptive Computer Technology Program has been a leader in the fields of accessible computer technology and digital accessibility for over 30 years.
- Mandate: To assist and integrate employees with disabilities, injuries or ergonomic requirements into the workplace, providing access to systems, programs, information, computers and other resources."]
And really, to me, there are three main reasons you would. The first one is the fact that we have experts in each category of disability. Whether we're talking vision, hearing, cognitive learning, physical, visible, or invisible disabilities, doesn't matter. From our perspective, we try to ensure that we have a fulsome set of people with different backgrounds. We've got technicians, we've got developers, we've got accommodation specialists, we've got adaptations specialists, we've got trainers, we've even got a psychologist and a few other specific backgrounds within our team so that we can look at the requirements from a variety of different angles.
Over and above that, from our perspective, disability is at the center of everything we do, including our own team makeup. In addition to being a group of experts in their own field, over 60% of our team have disabilities, covering those whole gambits of different types of disability. Because for me, one of the key areas is, let's not reinvent the wheel. Let's draw on the lived experience of areas, let's look at what other departments are doing, let's figure out what the best practices are, let's see what's worked for other people. If you've just acquired a disability, there's a whole journey attached to that that may be coming up. Let's plan not just for today, but for tomorrow, maybe with a degenerative condition or such.
From our end, we provide services from coast to coast to coast available to any department. A lot of what we do falls into three areas.
[Slide nine is titled "AAACT Services Provided to the Federal Public Service." A section called "Client Services" appears on the left side. Its description reads:
- Provide needs assessment according to job function and disability or injury
- Solution Development
- Integration of the ACT tools within the user's technical environment
- Research and testing individual's solutions"]
The first one is things for people. We have over 130 different pieces of software and 4,000 different technical aids that our users use, from simple to complex. For example, even if you were in a full body cast, we could still give you computer access. I usually jokingly say, "No sick leave for anybody!" But really, that's the challenge, is that it isn't a lack of options or a lack of tools. It's often figuring out what's available, how to get it working, what the roadblocks are and integrating and training on learning to work differently.
A lot of what we do also is to build capacity. We don't just want to be delivering a service. The majority of our team's time is actually spent on training things.
- "Hands on training program for Technicians
- Accessibility boot camp for web masters and applications developers
- Creating content and documents following accessibility standards
- Customized accessible training courses for persons with disabilities
- Awareness training and equipment demonstration"]
We offer things like workshops and sessions and courses for IT people, for developers, for technicians, for managers, and for employees and people with disabilities. I'm just going to highlight one, which everybody should take. Now, for National AccessAbility Week, we are doing a workshop on document accessibility. Wouldn't it be great if the documents we send out were readable and usable by everybody, including those with disabilities?
We've got a two-hour workshop, two-and-a-half-hour workshop that goes through all the tools we use in the government in terms of creating documents and why and how to fix things to make them accessible. What's great is it will actually allow you to create more inclusive content that is quicker to post, quicker to share. We do a lot of testing, too.
[A third section appears: "Accessibility Testing." A description below reads, "Test new technologies and products in the marketplace." A sub-heading is titled "Service for Partners, Accessibility Testing." A list is below:
- Product evaluations
- Application evaluations and guidance
- Hardware evaluations and guidance
- Multiple format guidance"]
Our testing involves bringing new technologies and new approaches. We do a lot of research, a lot of looking at what's worked well in other areas, from all kinds of different angles. In addition to that, we also do testing of enterprise solutions and software and systems so that when things are deployed, they can be deployed in a way that's more inclusive and accessible by default. Features are enabled. The ability to use the system is just there.
[Slide 10 is titled "Client-Centric Service Delivery – 2nd Tier Service Delivery." Below this, a yellow rectangle is split into four sections. In its center, a black box labelled "Clients" intersects all four sections. The sections are: "Specialized Training for
End Users," "R&D, Testing & Technical Support," "Media Conversion," and "Ergonomic Information." Beneath the rectangle, text reads "Tier 2 – Personal (Adaptive/Assistive) Technologies" and "Tier 3 – Technology, Environment, Information & Services."]
Really, we recognize there are all kinds of different parts and pieces to success in this. We view it as a multi-stakeholder approach to this stuff. We don't want to replace an existing area in a department. What we want to do is bring the subject matter expertise as early as possible and as quickly as possible into the organization and into the request. We're not going to be the ones, for example, who are going to go into your office and drill into your desk to install furniture. We're not going to be the ones who go onto your computers and install software. We're going to enable those things. We're going to bring expertise and we're going to support the departments in those activities. We can even help figure out how to do it quicker.
[The next slide is "Most Common Points to Activate AAACT." One list is titled, "User Specific Activation."
- "During staffing
- Following a Health Canada assessment
- Change to environment
- Change to the person's condition
- Client is going on training
- Prior to a major system development
- Prior to a major system deployment."
[The second list is, "IM/IT or Enterprise Activation."
- "During staffing
- Change to IT environment
- Request for alternate/multiple format material
- New technician needs training
- New developer needs training
- Prior to a major system development
- Major system deployment"]
There can be lots of reasons you might activate us. Could be change, could be new systems, could be new disability, could be you're going off on training. What kind of things someone might need? We bring that, I don't know, 5,000-foot view of, "This is what other departments are using, this is what other departments are doing, and this is what we see as best practices."
[Slide 12: "Inclusion – An essential Design Requirement." Two bullet points read, "Most managers are increasingly aware of 'Duty to Accommodate' obligations. We are seeing enhanced responses to individual employee needs," and "However, inclusion requirements need to be considered proactively when we buy, build or deliver any system or service."]
What is key to understand when we talk about the duty to accommodate is the fact that really, our duties start long before someone starts work. We're supposed to be doing many things by default in our early stages of planning or moving or doing something. We don't refer to it as the "duty to accommodate" policy or directive now. We will refer to it as the duties of accommodation because we're supposed to be examining all systems and services and processes and identifying barriers to people with disabilities. Eliminating those barriers sometimes was a temporary measure or a workaround, or some short-term solution.
We're then supposed to be building inclusion in. Essentially, making it easier so when the next person asks for something, it's less effort or it's simpler. And then we're supposed to be accommodating individuals. And for me, that's key because that's the most sustainable approach, that's the most welcoming.
[Slide 13: "Inclusion Continued." Bullet points follow:
- "Management Accountability Framework: People, Public Service Values and Risk Management Provisions
- Duty to Accommodate: The Four Duties
- Canada Labour Code – Part II: Identify and correct problems to prevent injury
- Canadian Human Rights Act: avoid "two door" discrimination
- Employment Equity Act: planning for better representation
- Internationally Established Requirements: UN Audits and Requirements; Project Lifecycle Management."]
It does not often involve a usually complex shift. It just means we have to be thinking about it, just like we think about official languages or we think about security all along in various little places. It's a little bit of work here and a little bit of work there, but we can all get there if we work at it together. Really, that's the key.
[Slide 14 is titled, "General Process and Guide for Acquisition of IT-Related Adaptive Products and Services." Text reads, "A general guide has been developed to help managers:
- Part 1 – An executive summary of the overall workplace accommodation process (written guide only)
- Part 2 – Outlines the process to acquire adaptive computer technology and AAACT services
- Part 3 – Provides a baseline understanding about various adaptive computer technologies."
[Text at the bottom of the slide reads, "This guide is a starting point for managers to understand how to access the AAACT services and purchase the recommended equipment."]
Where do you go when you want to get started? We've published a guide that essentially starts some of that understanding. It's broken into three parts. The first part is the general process, things like engaging with your internal resources, engaging with the various internal stakeholders as necessary, things like talking to the employee. That lived experience is the best indicator of what's worked well in the past. You may find that it doesn't take much effort to put in place a solution. The second part talks about the actual accommodation process. Get in to talk to us as early as possible. Even before someone actually starts their job would be even better because we can talk about things to think about, planning, those types of things. And that's really what our second section covers is the process. Sean will get into that a little bit.
Our last is examples of adaptive technology or tools. There's lots of things available and we've tried to give you some examples of the categories and types of things that people are generally looking for. If you don't know where to get started, what's great is we have a single approach to this stuff that generally works well, where anybody anywhere in the federal government can essentially send us an email and get into a one-on-one consultation with us so that the manager, employee can talk a little bit about their work, talk a little bit about what's worked, talk a little bit about the systems and such things that are expected in the workplace, or talk about what's changed.
Essentially, we do these consultations every single week. You can come in. They're one-on-one, so it's first come, first serve. But essentially, we spend that little bit telling you about our process, then asking for a bit of that information, then we tell you what we know. We show you what we know. We do demos. We talk about best practices. We talk about what you need to do to engage early on for success in this stuff because that's also a key.
[The presentation goes to slide 16, "What is an Info Session?" Its description reads:
- "Informal Info Session (1 on 1 Consultation)
- An informal session available to any Federal Public Service employee, manager and management supports (Facilities, Occupational Health and Safety, Information Technology, Human Resources)
- Get answers, learn about accessibility & learn about adaptive technology"]
If a manager knows about the roadblocks they're going to run into early on, then it's easy to plan for. We can definitely mitigate any kind of impact that has on a user and their productivity or on an employee and their productivity.
What's great is at the end of the session within a week, you get mailed a summary of tools, resources, best practices, and what we think some of the next steps should be and some of the 'gotchas.' For me, that's really where this stuff starts is get informed, try and leverage the expertise, see some tools, toys and tech, and then I'll hand it to Sean to get into more of the process pieces and some demos. Go ahead, Sean.
[The small window on the right side of the screen now reads "Lavelle, Sean." The presentation moves to slide 17: "All Roads Lead to an Info Session." A bulleted list follows:
- A Client
- Information Technology
- Occupational Safety & Health
- Health Canada
- Non-governmental Organizations (i.e. Canadian National Institute for the Blind."
[A blue circle is labelled "Info session." Turquoise arrows point to it, each labelled with an item from the list.]
Sean Lavallee [SL]: As Jeff said, our info sessions, we get referrals from all over the place. It could be from colleagues, it could be from HR, it can be from fellow managers.
[Slide 18: "Leveraging Technology to Facilitate the Process." Three icons and descriptions span the slide. The first has a picture of a person in front of a screen. Its description reads, "Video Conferencing: Info sessions, meetings, client sessions and training." The second image is of a person with a headset. Its description is, "Remote Desktop Tools: Remote tech support, remote consulting." The third image is of a wrench and a screwdriver. It's titled "Remote Training Tools."]
We leverage technology to facilitate this process. This is something we were doing long before the current work from home situation and it just so happened that it's worked out amazing with the current work from home situation. We offer information sessions using Teams. When we have the ability, they'll be in person or by Teams, or a combination of the two. We do a lot of our support for our clients remotely. We'll leverage tools like Teams and WebEx or remote control tools depending on the department's configuration so that we can support clients from our office, and we do the same thing for training.
[Slide 19: "Required Elements to Initiate AAACT – Connecting the Dots." Three more icons and descriptions follow. "Client Contact Information" is paired with an image of an open envelope. "Management Contact Information" is paired with a phone, and "Management Supports, Contact Information (IT, Facilities, OSH/EE)" has the image of a person wearing a headset.]
What do we need to initiate our services? We'll talk about this again later in the process, but it's really important, first and foremost, we need the contact information for the individual and for the manager. And then we also need contact information for management support. That would be IT facilities, Occupational Safety and Health, or Employment Equity, or combination of the two depending if it's disability or entry related. Because if we don't have the support from the internal resources within a department, we are often unable to be successful in fully accommodating the employee. We can let you know what tools to use, but if we don't have the people to help us get those tools into your hands, we run into barriers.
[Slide 20 is titled "The Process: Step 1." The details read, "Client Intake: Client starts the process. Client and case information is confidential – considered Protected B information. Management leads the process." A diagram on the left side lists the 6 steps: 1. Client (Intake); 2. Assess & Document; 3. Research, Evaluate, Test; 4. Recommendation and Coordinate; 5. Implementation, and 6. Follow-up.]
So, the process. Essentially, there's an info session that's held, and then we have the intake process, which is pretty much just collecting that information we had before that. It's important to note that any information on a client's disability and whatnot is Protected B. You have to be careful how you share that information. You should have the consent of the individual, or it should be the individual who's sharing it because what they share with you might be different than what they share with other service providers or their colleagues. You don't want to be talking about individuals with disabilities behind their back or sharing their information without their consent. It's really up to them to control that as much as possible.
[Slide 3 is titled "The Process: Step 1 – Continued. If injury related..." Bullet points follow.
- Workplace Safety Essentials
- Canada Labour code requires essential OHS measures be in place: incident reporting, investigation, correction; Employee is familiar with Hazard Prevention Program elements (i.e. THA, SWP); Workstations and/or work tools meet or exceed accepted minimum standards
- Engage OHS Facilities for ergonomic basics
- Occupational Health and Safety representatives may involve internal or external resources
- (i.e. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety www.ccohs.ca)
- Facilities Personnel may involve Public Works:
- Furniture Website: publicservice.gc.ca/services/icpsss-spicsn/furniture/intro-e.html
- e-Purchasing: achatsendirect-e-purchasing.gc.ca."]
If why somebody is coming to see us is because of an injury, then we also have to make sure that we're working with Occupational Health and Safety so that we, a) document the fact that this was a workplace injury, but also so that we can try and avoid future similar injuries with other individuals. We'll also work with the insurance companies as maybe appropriate like the WSIB in Ontario.
[Slide 22: "The Process: Step 1 continued.
- Primary contact sends a request for service to email@example.com.
- Request contains contact info for:
- Client's manager
- Client's IT support
- Client's OSH support
- Client's facility support
- Client's employment equity support
- Primary contact then receives a case number."]
That goes over... Oh, yeah, one important step with the intake process, so after the info session, we include information on how to get added to our service level agreement. Generally, it is the primary contact for each department that would be sending that information into us. It's generally somebody in employment equity or disability management that would be the "contract holder." And so they would be the one gathering that information on the manager and employee's behalf and then submitting it to us to add them to our case load, for lack of a better term.
[Slide 23: "The Process: Step 2. Assessment and Documentation."
- Intended outcomes
- Case history
- IT environment
- Physical environment
- Task related to work
- Tools/sensitization to the AAACT Program
- Training needs/technical level."]
Step two, assessment and documentation. Our team will meet with the employee. Sometimes it's one-on-one, sometimes it's two techs and one individual. Depends on what the needs of the individual are and the familiarity of the team with different tools and techniques. We'll sit down, we'll see what kind of work they do, what barriers are they facing, et cetera. We'll also have a meeting with management and see what they see as the perceived barriers, because sometimes those who are living a situation may focus a lot on, say, task A, not realizing that management doesn't need task A to be perfect, and they don't realize that they aren't doing tasks C to the same level as others.
Sometimes what the employee sees as a problematic task is not necessarily what the employer does. It's important to have those conversations so that we can focus on where we can get the biggest benefit, both for the individual, but also for the team's productivity. We also provide a little bit of training, help them reconfigure their computer as much as possible during this step. So if there's changes we can make within Windows... colour contrast is a good example, or different fonts or highlighting features that are built into Office 365, that's something we do at that time.
[Slide 24: "The Process: Step 3. Research, Evaluate, and Test."
- "We never jump into a solution without first knowing all the variables
- Setup test machines for trial purposes
- Then test with client
- Avoid usage of work computer, preferring "non-production" system
- We loan equipment through the Loan Bank for indeterminate employees and the Lending Library for short term employees"]
And then we get to our testing phase. And so in this phase, what we generally do is we get people to try technologies to see what works and what doesn't. Sometimes there are things that we're perfectly comfortable rolling out on their production computer, and sometimes depending on the security profile of the department, it's not a tool that we can just simply install anywhere. Sometimes we'll have people test the technology on a computer that isn't their primary system so that we can see, are they able to interact with the technology? Does the technology bring any benefit? And then if it does, we would work on implementing them. In other situations, it's as simple as just having IT roll out a package because we have some departments that have some of these tools available on a corporate license so they can just press a button on the backend, and a couple hours later, you magically have that software on your computer.
The other thing that's important to note is that we will loan equipment for people to try. If you want to try a different keyboard or mouse or a piece of software, just about everything by headsets, we can definitely loan to somebody so they can try it before they buy it, figure out what works and what doesn't before we go through the procurement process. For indeterminate employees, that's usually for 30 to 90 days that we'll loan the equipment. If you happen to be a determinate employee, so a student or a term employee, or possibly even a contractor, the Lending Library would take care of the loans and SSC will be loaning the equipment for the duration of your employment with the government, or until such time that you become an indeterminate employee. I will touch on the Lending Library a little bit more later.
[Slide 25: "The Process: Step 4. Make recommendations and coordinate"
- "IT Staff
- Equipment purchases
Step four, we make our final recommendations. At this step, sometimes we just go about saying, "These are the tools the individual needs" and we go about implementing them. And then in more complex cases, we'll help develop an accommodation plan with the employee and manager. It really depends on what the situation calls for, as well as the complexity. We will work with IT staff to get the tools the individual needs on their computer. We'll work with their procurement folks and their IT department to make sure that we procure the appropriate licensing for the individual. And as the case may be, procure the right kind of computer.
Some of the technologies we use will not work on just any computer the government buys, or they don't work for some individuals on just any computer we buy. We've done a lot of work with procurement and vendor relations to make sure that more of the systems the government buys will meet the needs of most people, but there are edge cases where that's not the case, or if people have older computers, they may not have sufficient resources on the computer to make the tools run smoothly. If we believe the marketing materials from our vendors, every single computer we buy could run the software in theory, but it doesn't always run it efficiently. The last thing we want to have happen is have people waiting for their computer to do their work as opposed to the computer waiting for them to tell it what to do.
[The next slide is "Duty to Accommodate – Purchasing for One Employee." Half of the slide has the subtitle "Software," whose details follow:
- "All software must be purchased by SSC via your department's IT Service Desk.
- All requests should be flagged as a "Duty to Accommodate" (DTA) request and should include a copy of AAACT's recommendation, the contact info for the AAACT lead assigned to the client, and the contact info for an IT Technician in the client's department."
[The other half of the slide has the subtitle "Hardware," with bullet points reading:
- "Laptops, desktops, hard drives, and memory should be purchased through SSC's IT Pro portal.
- The purchase must be flagged as a "Duty to Accommodate" (DTA) request and will need a technical exemption.
- Your department's IT Service Desk may need to submit the request."]
If we're purchasing tools for one individual when it comes to software, you purchase that through your department's IT service desk. You will highlight what tools they need. If you have recommendations from AACT, you staple it to the request, so to speak, or attach it to the email. You make sure also to include who the IT contact is in your department if you have that, as well as that individual's contact rather within the AACT team, so that when your department goes to submit the request to purchase the software, the technical authority would end up being the technician from AACT and the technician from your department, so that if procurement and vendor relations has questions, they will approach the technical experts and not just the procurement expert within your department. This is the biggest source of delays.
There's a question from the manufacturer like, "Do they really want this version?" It goes to SSC. SSC is like, "Yeah, that's a legitimate question. We should ask that." And then they send it to the procurement person if there's no technical contact. And then they wait a couple of days and then they contact either their IT person, they don't know the answer, then they contact us as we are kept in the loop. Immediately, procurement and vendor relations will get into contact with my team, myself, and the IT person from your department. And that just makes the process so much quicker because sometimes it's like, "Oh, yeah, we absolutely need the French version because the French includes the English." That's an example we would use with Dragon NaturallySpeaking.
When it comes to hardware, anything that is a laptop, a computer monitor, or a desktop and devices that contain storage media, those need to be purchased through SSC's IT Pro portal. Once again, that would likely go through your service desk. Some of these devices, your department may have delegated authority to go ahead and purchase them. That is something that your IT department should be aware of and know what to do, same process with software. If you're buying something that requires a technical exemption, it should be flagged as a DTA request and you should also put in the contact information for somebody in my team, as well as your technician, so that if there are questions, the procurement experts at SSC get in touch directly with the technical experts who are aware of the individual's needs. And that's pretty much how that works.
[The next slide is "Duty to Accommodate – Purchasing for One Employee (2/2)." Three bullet points are listed:
- "If the item is not on the SSC's IT Pro portal (per previous slide), SSC procurement area will not assist with its procurement.
- You can simply purchase items such as keyboards or mice from any vendor while following your department's procurement policies.
- Items such as monitor arms can be ordered from existing standing offers and supply arrangements, such as the Audio Visual Standing Offer, and must be purchased through those procurement vehicles."]
When it comes to other things like keyboards and mice, you can procure those following your departmental policies. Recently, there was information that was sent out to all departments and all managers reminding everybody that low dollar value items can be purchased with your government acquisition card. If you're buying keyboards and mice, chairs, desks, monitor arms, what you should be doing is leveraging our existing supplier arrangements either with our stationary suppliers like Grand & Toy, Corporate Express/Staples, Totem, Hamster, and purchase those items from them. They are allowed to sell them to us. They will take your credit card. You will get the item one to three days later, pretty much anywhere in the country.
You can also buy some of these items from some of our computer suppliers or some of our audiovisual standing offer suppliers. A good example is if you want monitor arms, some of them are available from furniture vendors. Different brands are available from our stationary vendors. Some of our computer vendors like Northern Micro also sell items on the audiovisual standing offer and they can sell you those items. And same thing with some of the Aboriginal businesses who sell computers and furniture, they often sell a lot of the ergonomic equipment.
One last point on purchasing hardware: if you're purchasing equipment that's wireless, my advice is always to reach out to your service desk and see what the policies are in your department. But a general rule is if it's not from a major vendor like Logitech or Microsoft, they may say no. and if it's wireless, they may have other constraints other than just supply chain integrity.
[Slide 29 is titled "Lending Library and Fast Tracked Accommodations." A description beneath this reads, "Short term employees are fast-tracked through the AAACT intake process." A list follows.
- "The employee and their manager meet with AAACT's experts (in person, Teams, WebEx, teleconference)
- AAACT visits (in person or virtually) the employee's workplace to understand the environment and type of work that will be done
- A personalized, informal consultation based on the employee's unique needs is provided to the employee to identify barriers and make recommendations on how to remove those barriers
- A post-consultation summary will be provided to the employee and their manager with best practices, approaches, and links to resources about the technology discussed."]
What's a Lending Library? It takes time to buy stuff. Even with the best of intentions, buying software could take 15 to 20 days. What SSC has done with the help of OPSA and Treasury Board is we've created a library of the most common tools that are requested for individuals within the public service. If you have term employees, students, casuals, and some types of contractors who require accommodation in the workplace, we're there to assist. You reach out to the AAACT mailbox, we set up a meeting as soon as possible. And this can be before the employee starts. We'll meet with the individual and their supervisor or manager and find out what barriers they face, what tools they may have used in the past, and then try and translate that into tools we can implement in their workspace.
What'll happen is you'll get a summary of what we see as the next steps as well as information on how to borrow those tools from us for the duration of their employment. If they leave the government, the equipment gets returned to shared services and we will clean it, recycle it, reuse it as appropriate. If they are continuing on with the public service in a determinate role, we will reach out with information on how to replace the items in the library for the next cohort of individuals to join, which, I pretty much talked about this.
[Slide 30: "Lending Library and Fast Tracked Accommodations (1 of 2)." A description reads, "If equipment, software or adaptive technology is recommended by our experts, they will have an opportunity to try different options for each of these tools." Bullet points follow:
- "The employee, their manager and their IT department are supported by AAACT and the Lending Library throughout the term of the employment.
- AAACT technicians support the employee's IT department to install and configure the software and equipment.
- The Lending Library supports the employee through regular contact during their employment.
- New or changing needs are identified, and tools are changed or added as required.
- The tools and resources you borrow from the Lending Library are available to you for the duration of your employment with the Government of Canada."]
And then we work with your IT department to install software and confirm the usability of tools where there are security concerns, so once again if we're talking about wireless headsets, wireless mice, keyboards, et cetera.
[The next slide is "Lending Library and Fast Tracked Accommodation (2 of 2)." It reads, "In the post-COVID environment, and for regions, the same process is followed – although some or all the steps are completed virtually."
- "The AAACT program may meet with employees and managers by teleconference or WebEx or Teams
- The Lending Library may ship several options of equipment like mice and keyboards to the employee to try in their own office, if they are not able to visit the show room."]
Right now, everything is done remotely as much as possible. But when the post-COVID situation comes, we will have a showcase space in downtown Ottawa where individuals can also come and try the equipment at our premises. We'll have offices for people to work from for a day or two so they can test stuff out and be close to one of our experts.
But for everybody right now, we ship the equipment to the individual's place of work, so that could be their workplace or their home. In some situations, we've also shipped... even though they're working at home, we may have shipped it to the office or to a colleague's house because the individual may not have been able to answer the door in time if Purolator came to drop it off or things like that, depends on their situations.
[Slide 32 is titled "The Process: Step 5. Implement." The three steps within it are Install, Tailor, and Customize.]
And then step five in our process is where we implement stuff. We work with the department to implement everything. We install it, we tailor it and customize it because there are hundreds of settings one can do for these tools. The implementation, the install of the software and stuff, sometimes it's as simple as just helping them register the demo version of the tool into the full version that they've procured. It often involves a couple of visits to make sure that we get the settings right, they work well for the individual, or they work well for the individual in all scenarios. And then we work on backing up those settings in case something should happen to their computer.
[Slide 33 is "The Process: Step 6. Follow-Up! Follow-Up! Follow-Up!" A list follows:
- "Closed circle of activity because:
- Job changes
- Technology changes
- ACT changes
- Environment changes
- Situation changes
- Problems may persist."]
The most important step, which technically happens during all of them, is following up. It is super critical that managers be engaged and follow up both with my team, the individual, and your other service providers. It's a great opportunity to see if things are changing, if there are situations that change, if things are working, if there are challenges in getting things done. Management can also assist in lighting a fire under the service providers who may not be actioning requests in a timely manner. And it allows you to see if problems persist. What's most important is that they be frequent when they need to be frequent and infrequent when they need to be infrequent.
There are times where you might have them weekly, then biweekly, then maybe monthly. And as things have settled in and everybody's comfortable with how things are going, maybe you'll have a meeting every six months. Maybe it'll be the employee and the manager who have a meeting monthly, and then you involve your other service providers quarterly. It really depends on the situation and managers are empowered to do what works best. It's important that they have a process for following up.
[The next slide is filled with the words, "Part 2: What is Adaptive Computer Technology?"]
What is adaptive computer technology?
[Slide 35 is titled, "Adaptive Computer Technology is About." Text below reads, "Altering or Enhancing the way the computer interacts with us" and "Altering or Enhancing the way we interact with a computer." In the middle of a slide is an image of a person clicking on the touch screen of a smartphone. Speech bubbles come out of the phone showing various accessibility-related symbols, such as a pair of glasses, a person in a wheelchair, and a person using a walker.]
Well, normally I'd be in our lab and I'd show you a whole bunch of stuff, but I'll explain what it is first, and then I'm going to give you a couple of key examples that really help. So, adaptive computer technology is about altering or enhancing the way the computer interacts with us, or it's about altering or enhancing the way we interact with the computer.
[The next slide is titled, "What is an Adaptive Technology Solution?" Bullet points read,
- "Off the shelf hardware/software
- Specialized hardware/software
- Custom configurations
- Custom devices/alterations
[Text beneath the list reads, "No cookie cutter solutions." On the right side of the page, a picture displays three cookie cutters.]
What is an adaptive technology solution? Well, sometimes it's an off-the-shelf hardware or software solution. Other times, it's specialized hardware or software. Sometimes it's just custom configurations of Windows, Office, or the above tools. Other times, it's custom devices or alterations to devices. A good example is if you have somebody with tremors in their hands and they tend to hit more than one key at once using a 3D printer or a laser cutter and a piece of Lexan, we can put a guard over the keyboard so that it has little holes where all the keys are, and you can only press one key at a time kind of deal. That's something that you might do as an alteration to a device.
Some of the other devices are designed sometimes to be taken apart. If you need the buttons further apart, they can actually be broken apart and then soldered with cables in-between so that they're further apart. There's no cookie cutter solution. Just because two people have the same disability, are working in the same department, they may not need the same tools, either because of preference, either because their condition really is much different, or it could be that their job functions are so different that what works for one individual won't work for the other.
[Slide 37: "Adaptive Computer Technology." Two points read "Build solutions tailored for each individual and keep them working," and "Support 100's of different customized setups." One image displays a dozen icons, including a person in a hardhat, a construction crane, and blueprints for a house. Another image is of a smiling cartoon man holding a wrench.]
We build solutions tailored for each individual to keep them working and we support hundreds of different customized setups. As I mentioned before, there's so many ways to customize the tools and each person uses it a little bit differently.
[The next slide is titled "Equipment Demo." Text at the bottom reads, "What is Adaptive Computer Technology? It can be as simple a requirement as a split keyboard to as complex as a system that can be operated with just the ability to breathe." Two photos are on the slide. In the photo on the left, a person sits in front of a computer. The keyboard on the desk is split into two separate halves. Each half has a small pad attached to its left, with a circle in the center. The left-side keypad's circle is green and the right-side keypad's circle is orange. On the desk near the computer is a large red button.]
We have two photos on the screen here right now. On the left, we have an individual using a split keyboard. That particular one is the Kinesis Freestyle Pro. What makes it pro is the fact that you can split it up a lot more than the Freestyle 2, so there's a bigger distance between the two apps if you want it. All the keys can be reprogrammed. If you never use the Z key and you wanted to turn that into Control-Alt-Delete, you could do that if you so wanted to. It has 10 buttons that aren't assigned to function on the left-hand side. Generally, people would put in things like, copy, cut paste, maybe Control-Alt-Delete.
And then we have a bunch of switches. There's two plate switches, one with a green circle and one with an orange circle. Those don't take a lot of force to activate. If you dropped a toonie on it, they would activate. You dropping a dime, not quite enough weight. Attached to the keyboard where the two halves would meet if it was squished together, there's two featherlight switches. Those take very little force, but they make an audible click every time you press them. And then for fun, we put our largest button, which is a big red button. It's not much different than the Staples Easy Button that you saw on the commercials a few years ago. You click it, it does something.
The switches are dumb. They have no programming ability. All it is is just a way to open a circuit or close a circuit. Where the intelligence comes in is the little box they plug into. Generally, we use a device called the X-keys 12. The programmable switches by the company are called X-keys and they have different models. The 12 allows you to plug in 12 different switches. They have an X-key 16, it's 16 buttons, same concept as the keyboard. They're all reprogrammable. And so we program that box so that on input one, it does whatever function we want. That's a combination of keyboard or mouse commands. The best example everybody can relate to is Control-Alt-Delete. The log into your computer, that can be programmed into a button.
When we go to support individuals, we will send them maybe one of each type of button and program a bunch of functions on this box so they can see which button is easiest to activate for each of the functions, but also which buttons don't work for them. Some people may not like the featherlight switch. Some of them might want the plate switch because they can also use it with their feet. Maybe they only want to use their feet. Then we give them switches that are a little more rugged. The controller stays the same. Generally, when we're working with people outside of Ottawa, we ship them one of everything. And now during COVID, even those in Ottawa, we send them one of everything, let them figure out what works, what doesn't, have them let us know what other switches they want. We send them more of those, confirm that the solution works, and then we worry about the procurement process.
One last thing on the picture on the left, you'll see that there's a little gizmo floating here on the right.
[A cursor hovers on a small black pad raised off the right edge of the right-side keypad.]
That is a touchpad. It works the same way as the touchpad that's built into most of the laptops the government buys. What's different about it is that it's connected to a USB port and it's got a mounting mechanism so you can either attach it to a keyboard, put it flat on the desk, or in this case, it's mounted to an arm so that you don't have to reach out for it. You've got gestures on it. You can mouse like you do your laptop. It's no different.
[In the photo on the right, a person sits in front of a computer screen. She has a long, thin tube in her mouth, which connects to the computer.]
On the photo on the right, we have an individual surfing the SSC webpage using a sip pop switch. How that works is that depending on if you breathe in through the switch, it does one command, if you breathe out, it does a different one that you can program a little more intelligence with some of them than that. But that's the basic premise and each thing does an action. And you can use software that will move the cursor slowly around the screen, so you might suck in for it to stop moving left or right and then blowing would stop it moving up or down.
[Slide 39: "AAACT – Who Benefits from These Services?"
- "Persons with disabilities
- Application developers
- Project managers
- Other AAACT Centres
- Accessibility related initiatives
Who benefits from our services? Everybody. Sometimes it's the end users benefiting, technicians who get training, content developers who get training, civil servants who learn how to make accessible documents. And then the knowledge you learn from working with us helps others. Here's our contact information. I will keep it up on the screen for a moment or two and we'll move to the questions and answers.
[Slide 40, "Contact Us," lists the contact information for various services.
- "Accessing AAACT (SSC) Services:
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Phone: (819) 994-4835. Toll-free: 1-866-442-2228.
- Web: service.ssc-spc.gc.ca/en/contact/partclisupport/aaact
- APRC (PSPC):
- OPSA (TBS):
[Isabelle's window replaces Sean's beside the PowerPoint slide.]
IR: Thank you, Jeff and Sean, for the great presentation, which highlighted very well resources available and the key role played by managers in the process. As you mentioned, we'll now open the floor to questions from participants. As a reminder, you may send your questions by pressing the raise hand icon in the upper right corner of your screen.
[The slide disappears, and Isabelle's window fills the screen, along with Jeffrey and Sean's. Jeffrey is a white man with grey hair and a grey and black goatee. His eyes remain mostly shut throughout the call. He wears a red button-down and he uses a headset. Jeffrey sits in a room with art projects hung on a corkboard. A small screen is to his right, and at the back of the wall are many papers and boxes. Sean is a white man with short curly hair and a short beard. He wears an army green button-down over a black shirt, and he sits in front of a black wall.]
IR: As the first question, I'd like to ask Sean, you briefly touched on this, but could you expand on how and what are accommodations being implemented in employees' residences now that many are working from home?
SL: Yeah. That varies a lot from situation to situation.
[Sean's window fills the screen. A purple text box in the bottom left corner identifies him: "Sean Lavallee, Shared Services Canada."]
I'll use my team as an example. On March 13th, we pretty much saw the writing on the wall that it's unlikely we would be working another full week at the office. So we got the team together, we explained the situation. And what we didn't know was how long it would be before we got back. We figured we'd be at least three weeks based on what we're hearing in the news. Our offices were supposed to have the furniture replaced four weeks later. Everybody packed their office as if we're moving to a new office building. At the same time, we arranged to make sure that everybody could go home with a keyboard, a mouse, a computer monitor, and any of their ergonomic equipment so that they could safely work from home.
Two weeks in, it became very apparent that this would last for a lot longer. Then we rented a vehicle, we worked with our director, and we just set everybody up to work from home. In some situations, we disassembled furniture that was in the office, brought it to the employee's home. They had their significant other or family member help them reassemble it and put it into place. Same thing with chairs, we dropped them off. They would get a family member to help them put it in place.
A lot of similar things have happened for our clients, too. Some combination of themselves, their manager, or a more formal process within their department, they get access to their equipment, it gets brought to their house, and occasionally movers are hired as well because the individual and their family don't have the means to safely do it. And some managers just buy a brand new item because it can be much simpler sometimes to just buy something and make it the vendor's problem to get it there than it is to figure out how to get it out of the building safely, what times of days you can do it. Hire somebody either to move it or have the equipment to move it themselves, it's not always obvious.
When it comes to our specific services, the only thing that's changed is we get people to confirm what their mailing address is. We no longer assume it's the workplace. There have been situations where I've gone to help individuals that I've worked with over a long time and I'm a little more comfortable with. With proper PPE, we've gone and supported them in person. Other times, we've had employees meet with people in their front yard and explain how some of the technology works. It's a little more personal, but it's a difficult time for everybody. Not everything has an easy solution and not all solutions work in all situations. I think the key to our team's success internally has been flexibility, the authority to make decisions and take risks. That's really the key to success because a little bit of out of the box thinking and documenting what we did and how we were doing it, it's just been simple.
[Isabelle and Jeffrey's windows reappear.]
JS: I just had a couple of quick things that I think are really important. I think Sean's example really demonstrates the fact that you might have heard a lot of potentially complicated processes or activities in our discussions earlier.
[Jeffrey's window fills the screen. A purple text box identifies him: "Jeffrey Stark, Shared Services Canada."]
But in many cases it's not nearly as complicated as it sounds, especially when you got the right information as early as possible. I mean, we're talking about a team where 60% of the team have a disability covering that whole gambit using all kinds of different tools and solutions. And yet within a weekend, we had people at home working. Within two weeks, we had them with everything they needed. Shifting is possible.
What I do like about what Sean's been talking about is the fact that there's a lot of different ways to make this stuff work. Sometimes we had people who were working at different hours on the weekends, or shifting around as departments weren't always getting the same bandwidth or able to access the network.
[Isabelle and Sean's windows reappear.]
I like his earlier comment from a previous presentation where he talked about the fact that we're really just treating the NCR like the regions, and we're using all the techniques we use to accommodate people there in COVID land nowadays. Back to you, Isabelle.
IR: Thank you. Great examples of how you've adapted. Another question is that does each federal department has a designated liaison person for AAACT? And if yes, does this person need to approve a referral to you?
SL: Yes and no. Most departments do have a dedicated person. Sometimes they have a dedicated mailbox. There's some departments where we get requests to add people to the SLA from a generic mailbox. They sign who in the team is asking for it, but there could be 15 different individuals who are technically the "primary contact." As for coming to see us, anybody can come for an info session. It doesn't matter where you work, what you do, or whether or not your department has set up all those service level agreements in the backend. We'll let you know if the process needs work or not. We'll let you know who to talk to if we do have a primary contact in that department and you don't know who that is. Jeff, is there anything else you'd like to add?
JS: I'll just say the vast majority of departments have a process established, or at least have a primary contact. As Sean said earlier on, it's generally in the HR unit of some sorts, like EAP, Workplace Wellness, Disability Management, Occupational Health and Safety, or Duty to Accommodate are the most common across departments. Although every department has a little bit of this and a little bit of that, from our end, if we do get actioned and we do require more service than that initial consultation, part of our process ensures that that material goes back to the department in terms of linking up the various players that need to be involved or stakeholders so that we're not missing things. In many cases, those processes happen seamlessly in the background.
IR: Next question is also for you, I think, Jeff. "Does your organization support in policy development?" And then examples are implementation plans, change management plans, key performance indicator, tracking, et cetera.
JS: I would say we're primarily working in the backend of things.
[Jeffrey's window fills the screen.]
We come into departments, we've definitely worked with a number of the leading departments in the space of workplace accommodation in terms of process redesign, in terms of process improvement. We definitely try to enable the organization as a whole in terms of figuring out where the pain points are and some easy low-hanging fruit. We do offer a number of courses that talk about evaluation, especially for evaluation of ICT products. There's some things around that in terms of measuring success, whether that's against the standard.
And then we also do a whole bunch of stuff around ICT procurement, where we're helping pilot some of the most up-to-date digital accessibility standards and working with PSPC and TBS and other areas on those and several other fronts.
[Isabelle and Sean's windows reappear.]
We definitely participate in a lot of the working group's center departmentally that are working on those same topics of change management and KPIs and policy development and so on, like I co-chair the TBS access working group that has supported standard development.
IR: Another question is, "Is there a Lending Library in every province or is it only situations located in Ottawa?"
JS: I'll take that. Originally, we conceived a variety of different models and we're still exploring. Part of the whole goal of the Lending Library project was to experiment and adapt and figure out what would work and put in place accelerated processes for especially the short-term folk. We have one spot where our inventory sits and we have a whole bunch of the most common tools available. We ship to locations as opposed to physically setting up a location everywhere because even if we were to set up a location in each region, we'd still end up not serving a large portion of the regions that way.
What we do is we work remotely using tools. We are either at the employee's workplace or home and virtually provide those consultations with the various people. Stakeholders sometimes will come in, like the IT person at the facilities area to support. We do a lot in the distance which has been our remote support model since the beginning. The only difference is that we're trying to cut the corners wherever we can to make it a little quicker in a whole bunch of different areas that we figure accumulates into one faster process.
IR: Another question, I think this one might be for Sean. "What do you consider low dollar amount items and what's the limit?"
SL: That is a question that should be directed towards your finance department, but I believe the rules on the government acquisition card are $5,000. Essentially, what you want to make sure is that what you're buying is not a computer monitor, does not contain storage media like a hard drive or USB memory keys and isn't a computer, because those must be purchased by your service desk through IT Pro. Other things may have to be purchased from a supply arrangement, like chairs, but you can pay for them with a credit card or a purchase order if you so choose.
What it is is that there were departments that would take weeks or months to buy people a keyboard. But if the employee was in a region, their manager would just go buy it from the stationary supplier because legally you had the ability to use your credit card to do that. The Comptroller General's messaging is just reminding managers that you are paid to manage and you have this tool and it might be the simplest way, the fastest way, and also the least costly way of procuring something. Because if you have to ask 15 different people for permission to buy a $100 keyboard, you've probably spent significantly more in labour than the $100 you're trying to save.
IR: I think the next session that we're going to have in June on the purchasing of accommodation process will be able to provide more information also on the process. Another question is, "You've mentioned the list of common assistive technologies used to supply to Lending Library. Is it possible to access that list of specific technologies?"
SL: Yeah. You can reach out to us at our mailbox and we'd be happy to forward that off. We prepared something on that. We also have a document that we prepared a couple of years ago that talks about the most common software tools. When it comes to the hardware, it is hard to have a definitive list because there are items that we have in inventory from our loan bank that we will sometimes loan it to Lending Library employees. Sometimes those items are no longer available in the marketplace. Once somebody uses it, nobody else will ever get the chance to use it.
There's so many variations. We do have a list of the most common pieces of software we support and the most common tools within the Lending Library and the types of tools, because sometimes you can buy 16 different items that do the exact same thing and work the same way, they just have a different fitment. A good example is buying a headset that is geared towards a call center or somebody working in that type of work where you can have it cover both ears, cover only one ear, go behind the neck, above the head, clip onto your ears, and so on and so forth so that particular item has 10 different skews, but they all function the same way with the computer.
JS: I would just add that if you go look at part three of the guide, it actually covers a lot of the most common tools and technologies that we see. What you'll find when you have a look at it is that many of the things that we point to aren't always what we would traditionally call assistive technology. In many cases, they're either software or hardware products that were designed for the mainstream, but have huge utility for people with disabilities. The X-key Sean mentioned earlier is a great example. It didn't grow out of a need by people with disabilities. It grew out of the manufacturing industry. And on the floors, they wanted to automate certain multi-step processes. And so they saw a huge need for this and a market was created, the tool made sense.
And for people with disabilities, often what we're trying to do is automate or create a better experience or reduce the amount of effort or activity someone does in completing a task. Because if your doctor has said, "We want you to be doing less keyboarding, less computer usage," you want when you do use that computer for each activity you're doing for you to get the biggest bang for your buck.
Coming back to this, a lot of the tools that we use either aren't assistive technology in their traditional sense, or else what we've tried to do is make sure that we're not boxing people into one solution when there's several that meet the same requirements but might be appropriate for one environment or another. We don't want to recommend something that won't be usable in, say, a secure environment or other unique workspaces. That's where I would point you back to the guide as a starting point because we've actually tried really hard to make sure that we have those foundational pieces in that third part of the guide.
IR: I think the next one is also for you, Jeff. "In engaging people with disabilities in an external advisory committee, how do we provide them with access to a accommodations if they are not federal employees but working as public stakeholders in a federal context? Is it possible to provide accommodations to non-employees?"
JS: I would say reach out. In general, if they are doing work for the government, there's probably something that can be done. Our services are specifically targeted at federal public servants, but it sounds like you're in a short term type role or activity there. It likely would qualify under the Lending Library pilot project as a short-term need because you have people coming in doing work and then leaving. But I would actually urge them to... whoever asked the question to reach out to me directly and we'll have a call just to work through all those pieces.
IR: Great. Another question. "Some departments are looking to create a center of expertise for accessibility. Are there concerns of governance or overlap with your work? Should we be going to AAACT first," is the question?
SL: I'm going to give two cents on that and then Jeff can continue. I say meet with us first because we can put you in touch with departments that have started doing this work so that you don't have to repeat their same mistakes and copy the success. Jeff, off to you.
JS: Yeah. I would say big "A" accessibility is a much larger topic or disability inclusion than all some of the areas that we sit in. Our whole goal over the last 30 years has actually been building capacity in organizations. Most of the areas of work in accessibility stem from initiatives or efforts or co-collaboration that we've done. In most cases I would assume that they're already engaged with us, or if you're not, then you really should be because we have a whole suite of services that are geared towards not reinventing the wheel. Things like courses for technicians on supporting the technology, things like virtual learning series on foundational pieces like training... Like I mentioned, the document accessibility workshop.
I think that there is way more work than anyone area can handle. I think the key is that as you build your accessibility strategy in departments, that you essentially plan for different scenarios and the different sort of many-headed hydra that is accessibility. We can certainly help in that journey and in most departments we are doing exactly that, where we have that blended solution of they take some parts of it, we take other parts of it. Doesn't make sense for us all to try and build the same thing, but instead compliment and figure out where our strengths are and how we can build a community, which is the next step that we've been working towards.
IR: Either pick up the phone or email AAACT and then you will guide them. Another question is, "In the consultation, is it possible for an employee's rehab specialist, like a physical therapist, to participate in the discussion..."
[Sean nods emphatically.]
I'm seeing Sean already—
JS: Happens all the time.
IR: I'm going to finish the question.
[Isabelle laughs, and Sean and Jeffrey smile.]
"—just to assess whether it's well-suited before an order is made."
SL: Absolutely. As far as the employee goes, they can invite anybody they want to the session. That could be their favorite coffee buddy, it could be their treating professionals, it could be an occupational therapist, it could even be a family member. Family members are a little more uncommon, but it's not necessarily uncommon when somebody has acquired a disability. It's a big life-changing event if you have to also change the way you work and the way you live your life. So, maybe you will want a family member there. They may pick up on some of the things that might help you outside of work better than you will. Individuals are welcome to bring anybody they wish to the meeting. As for management, if management wants to bring people, they need the employees' permission.
IR: Merci. The next question is from someone who's an ESDC trained ergo coach for their directorates. The question is, "We are interested in duty to accommodate for ergo chairs, desks as standard equipment for all employees. We are told only medical DT or medical notes to be able to get an ergo office chairs from the employer and not force the employee to buy and get reimbursed for inferior-quality furniture. What are your recommendations?"
JS: Maybe I'll take some and Sean will take some as well.
I would say that each department has their own rules and regulations processes and procurement approaches. I will say that the key to making a more inclusive workplace is having the level of flexibility built in by default. If you go back years, sit/stand desks were accommodations. Now, in many departments, they're just there by default. If you go back further, a 20-inch monitor was an accommodation we made for someone who was low vision. Now, nobody gets a 20-inch monitor. Everybody has the option for something bigger because we work at the computer so much. A lot of the time it's how you frame things.
And the larger the envelope, actually the more you'll save money and the more employees will essentially avoid things like risk of injury. But also, it means that when people with disabilities who may have needs that fall out of your normative population in terms of positioning or seating or furniture—to me, the more flexibility you have in your furniture, the less that person gets stuck sitting over there in the corner because that's the only desk that works for them, as opposed to everybody else who can go to every other floor and go sit with their colleagues or set up around coffee. As we move into this return to the workplace, planning, to me, that's another key element. Anything to add, Sean?
SL: Oh, so much. But I'll keep it brief.
[Jeffrey and Isabelle smile.]
I think it's important to note that while furniture looks expensive on paper—height adjustable desk and very good chair is probably $2,200, $2,400. If you look at it from another perspective, that is two weeks of salary. If you have an employee who calls in sick for two weeks, you have already wasted the taxpayer's money. If we invest in our people, make sure they have the tools to work comfortably, work safely, they will be more productive. They will take less sick leave, they'll complain less about their job, they'll be happier in and out of work.
To me, putting all these barriers in place is just shifting the burden onto the individual and also onto the taxpayers at a provincial level. Having people go to their doctor just to get a note so that they can get a desk that moves up and down every so often so they're not always sitting down is ridiculous because then we're paying a doctor to meet with the employee who's using their sick leave to go to the doctor's office. And then we have the whole process that we're going to put in place to, "Oh, is this really a legitimate request?" when we could've just done the $2,000 and set the person up for success. And then there's all the side costs where people are not getting as much exercise because they're not commuting to work. We could be helping them burn more calories by working standing, thus also reducing the healthcare costs that we all pay for.
I think that when employees join an organization, they should be sitting with an ergo coach to find out how to adjust the workspace safely, what type of chair works best for them, because there are certain chairs you can buy for about $800 that work very well for 80% to 90% of the people in the office as long as they know how to adjust them properly. And then there are people who need a bigger seat pan or a tinier seat pan, and we shouldn't need a doctor's note to get the chair that fits an employee. A lot of these things are obvious that even the sales person at a small furniture store could tell you that that individual can't use that chair because they're too small or they're too big. That's just my two cents worth. I can't change the world, but...
JS: If you could!
[Isabelle and Sean chuckle.]
IR: Slowly, we're trying. Sean, you mentioned injury on duty caused disabilities. Will SSC support disease-caused disability? As an example, macular degeneration.
SL: Absolutely. That's actually probably one of the most common reasons why people come and see us. People get injured sometimes at work, they blow out their hands because they don't sit properly at their desk, or they refuse to take breaks, or don't think of taking breaks. But you can also just be getting older and your eyesight is not as good as it once was. We have a whole bunch of techniques to fix that, sometimes it's simple as changing how the computer displays information and it can be as complex as using screen magnification software. But the biggest tip I can give to everybody is learning to touch-type. Because if something happens to your eyes, you'll still be able to work. If you don't know how to touch-type, you can't use a computer unless you can see it.
JS: That's actually a good point there, Sean, which is the fact that often as managers, we put our own blinders on in terms of the work as well. We may not envision someone with a disability being able to complete a task because we wouldn't know how to do that. And that's really where coming to see us can be a huge value, both for the employee in terms of figuring out what works for them or what could help and planning for that change, like RP is a good one because it's a good one that they raised, the person asking the question, because it is a degenerative condition. We don't just want to plan for today, we want to plan for later on and harden the employee to that change.
But also, we can talk about task completions, how things are getting done or ways around it. It may not be a hugely complicated thing. But if we have our blinders on, we may be adding a certain unconscious bias to the decisions we're making that say, "Oh, this person can't do this job," when quite frankly it's totally doable. I'll just stop one quick example because I think it's fun, which is when you talk about a task, I'm going to go out of work, and say you would never think someone who can't see would be downhill skiing. But up until COVID, I'd done it every year for several years and done it safely because there's whole programs on how to do this out of areas like Camp Fortune. It's done safely. It's just not done exactly the same way a sighted person might do it. There might be other ways of accomplishing the task, but it can be done, and it can be done even if you may not be able to imagine how a blind person would essentially do downhill skiing safely. I'll just stop there and hand it back to Isabelle.
IR: Excellent. I'm learning so much today! "Does the process change if the employees' accommodation involves Workers' Compensation Board, the WCB? And if the WCB has paid for furniture or equipment if the injury occurred in the workplace, does AAACT and WCB work together, or is it the local employer contact and WCB, or is WCB not used? What's the relationship when WCB is involved?"
SL: We're going through this with an employee. The process is broken. I'm not going to lie. There is no perfect system. What happens is that the WSIB or the... the "insurance company" focuses on their scope. They will sometimes be providing some of the equipment to the individual. If the individual has a functional requirement to work both at home and at work, take advantage of it, have all that equipment set up in their home. But it's not a process that is going to guarantee success. I wish I could explain some of the cases in more detail. But I've been in meetings where it becomes adversarial sometimes between the department, the individual, and the insurance company, and they're quibbling about stupidities.
The amount of money that both parties are spending on having these meetings alone would sometimes just pay for these accommodations to be put in place. Some of them are painfully obvious and painfully simple and yet there's just barriers. So, it's important to work with them. We are more than willing to work with case managers and sometimes we have a lot of success doing so. But I think it depends on how early in the process third parties get involved. If you have an individual who's injured, the best thing to do is to make sure that the person acknowledges they may have to work differently and that you involve your disability management and us as soon as possible so that there are third parties who have a vested interest in helping you and the individual, but not necessarily a vested interest in the process and the money.
JS: Just to expand real quick on that, I'll just say we've seen success, we've seen failure. The key is engagement. And from our side, you can engage with us as early as possible. We've worked with the insurance boards of different areas. We have had employees come in and do some training in other aspects of managing the change, like, let's say to go back to RP, "I'm losing my vision," or "I need to learn to work completely differently."
Well, that can happen before the person returns to work as part of a gradual return to work plan, where we're basically doing a temporary modification of the work or work arrangement and we're essentially working with the various stakeholders, both in the government and out. We don't make any limitations around that. It's really up to the department to manage that. We look to the disability management or case management area of the department to really lead those things with management, and we'll come around the table any time because our goal is really to make this simpler and easier. Anything we can do to do that, we're generally supportive because we see it as the earlier the intervention, actually the less effort it is for us in the long run.
[Sean holds up a finger.]
IR: Yes, Sean?
SL: Sometimes it can be simpler to just buy the thing and wait for the insurance company to figure it out for you, especially if we're talking keyboards, mice, maybe a different controller for a height adjustable desk. The desk itself is not cheap. But sometimes it's just simpler to just take the risk, manage the situation, and let the chips fall afterwards. Otherwise, an employee is suffering. You're not getting productive work from them. They're calling in sick and you're at just a whole bunch of meetings where nothing moves forward.
IR: Okay, I've got another question, "What is the expected turnaround time after an info session with you guys?"
SL: Turnaround time to get the summary should be about two weeks but it really depends on the workload of my team, how quickly they're able to complete that. When it comes to fully accommodating an employee, it could be three weeks, it could be a year. I don't want to say it takes a year, but it's a combination of finding what works, having an engaged employee and engaged manager and the department supports there. Some things are really quick, some things are less quick. The work from home situation, some parts of it make it a lot easier and some parts of it make it a lot harder.
For instance, if you have a situation where you need a different kind of computer than the one you currently have, you could place the order for the computer. By the time the computer is ordered, it's then discontinued because there's no longer any chips to make the computer and you're back at square one. That has sadly happened multiple times this past year, where the same individual has had to order three different computers just because it takes their department a month to get all the contracting staff over to SSC. SSC processes the request, the vendor accepts the request, and then the vendor finds out from their factory in China that they can no longer make the thing.
JS: Because of a chip shortage?
SL: Because of a chip shortage. And then you have to go back to square one and it's... Sometimes it can be short, sometimes it takes long. But generally, I would say that we get most employees completely set up, all the procurement done within five to seven months. And then it's just a question of some additional training and tweaking.
JS: A lot of it also depends on the complexity of the file or the request. If the person comes in knowing what they need and they just require a little bit of a change of this or an upgrade of that, could be ridiculously quick. Sometimes it's just a change in settings on the computer, which means two days, you're done. Sometimes it's because we're planning for that change over time where that person has a degenerative condition or a complex multi-disability type request. But there are solutions in all of those areas.
IR: There's time for maybe one or two questions. We'll see. But the next one would be, "Can you assist departments to explore options when recommendation measures are workplace arrangements? For example, extra time to perform a task often recommended when there's a learning disability."
SL: So, we can assist in that. We may also need to call them a third party like an occupational therapist to properly do that. Now, I'm assuming this is when we're talking about completing work every day. If it's about assessing an employee who you're trying to hire, your first step would be to talk to the public service commission, and then it may be us. Depending on how the exams are done and whatnot, they have a lot of experts who would assist you with that. But you might need more than just us.
IR: Okay. Maybe time for a last question. "Do you meet with employees and teams outside of the NCR?"
SL: Absolutely. Half our clients are from outside the NCR, if not more. In some departments, I have never met anybody but an IT technician. Veterans Affairs is a good example where all of our clients are outside of Ottawa. The only people we have met from Ottawa are two technicians.
JS: 2019 from November, two weeks we spent in the Maritimes going from area to area, location to location doing exactly what you're talking about with the traveling roadshow, where we hit new Brunswick and PEI and Halifax, Nova Scotia and so on with the goal towards doing three things: meeting with clients, employees with disabilities, but also building capacity in those regions and linking to schools and universities so when students are coming in they know about us, and we continue to do that virtually.
IR: Excellent. You've got a roadshow going up as well.
JS: Well, we did a virtual learning series this year as an alternative, same sort of idea.
IR: Excellent. That's all the time we have for questions. I noted many great takeaways from today's session, namely the need to address barriers to inclusivity that could be present within our teams and programs or... and sorry, and how the program discussed today can help. Thank you for that. The federal public service is stronger and most effective when we reflect the diversity of Canada's populations we serve. It is our hope that the information and tools shared with you today will be helpful as we continue to make progress to increase representation of persons with disabilities.
On behalf of the school of the NMC, I'd like to thank Yazmine, Arun, Jeff, and Sean, recognizing that one of our strengths in Canada is our diversity. On behalf of the NMC and the School, I'd like to thank you for being part of today's discussion from coast-to-coast. I hope that you enjoyed today's event. Your feedback is also very important. I encourage you to complete the electronic evaluations that you will receive in the next couple of days. Over the next few weeks, the NMC will host several events, including the third event in the workplace recommendation consultation series, which covers contracting policy requirements, as well as the roles and responsibilities of buyers and clients regarding accessible procurement. There were a few questions on that today, so be sure to be there and join us on June 15th. The registration is now open for the event.
Other events of the NMC will include topics on the future of coaching and clicks and tips mentoring session, helping managers to leverage Microsoft Teams. I encourage you to follow our Twitter handle @NMC_CNG, our Facebook, LinkedIn, GCconnex pages, as well as our newsletters for updates and registration details. The OPSA is also hosting a virtual event in collaboration with the School to mark this year's National AccessAbility Week on June 1st. We're all inviting public servants to join this event to celebrate the anniversary of Nothing Without Us, an accessibility strategy for the Public Service of Canada, as well as learn from public servants, leaders, and distinguished guests about how we can work together to build an inclusive Canada for persons with disabilities. You can find a registration page on the School's website and on OPSA's accessibility.
[A URL appears in the bottom left corner of the screen: canada.ca/school-ecole.]
We hope to see you there. The School also offers many events and I encourage you to check the CSPS webpage regularly for updates and to register for other learning opportunity. Once again, thank you all and have a wonderful day.
[Isabelle smiles and Sean and Jeffrey wave. The Zoom call fades out. The animated white Canada School of Public Service logo appears on a purple background. Its pages turn, closing it like a book. A maple leaf appears in the middle of the book that also resembles a flag with curvy lines beneath. The government of Canada Wordmark appears: the word "Canada" with a small Canadian flag waving over the final "a." The screen fades to black.]