Environmental Sensitivities

What do you need to know about environmental sensitivities?

Individuals with environmental sensitivities may have adverse reactions to foods, chemicals or environmental agents, singly or in combination. For assessment accommodations to be warranted, the condition must potentially have a significant effect on the person's performance during the assessment. Environmental sensitivities include adverse reactions to specific allergens, such as cleaning agents, dust, perfumes or building construction materials.

What information or professional documentation is needed?

Applicants are the first source of information on their environmental sensitivities. They must provide information on the substance that causes their allergy and any accommodations that are currently necessary for them. Professional documentation will usually not be needed.

What are the key elements to consider?

When determining assessment accommodations for persons with environmental sensitivities, the following three elements should be considered:

1. The nature and extent of the person's functional limitations must be clearly understood. The following questions may help to gather useful information:

  • What is or are the substances to which the person is allergic?
  • What is the nature and extent of the functional limitations caused by the environmental sensitivity, and are they mild, moderate, severe?
  • Is the allergic reaction potentially life-threatening?
  • What are the current effects of any medication being taken, if applicable?
  • Are there any specific requirements, such as a need to be tested away from certain substances?

It is important to reiterate that persons with disabilities are the first source of information on the way their limitations affect them and on how to accommodate their specific needs. Consequently, this information is usually gathered through exchanges with the person. To help you to gather these details in a discussion, you may wish to refer to the questionnaire available in appendix 2.

2. A thorough knowledge of the assessment tool to be used is required. In regard to the specific environmental sensitivity of the person, elements of questioning include:

  • Is the assessment material free from the specific allergen(s)?
  • Is the assessment location free from the specific allergen(s)?
  • In group situation, are other potential participants to the assessment session free form the specific allergen(s)?

3. Knowledge of the qualification being assessed is essential. This information will help you ensure that accommodations do not modify the nature or level of the qualification being assessed. Considerations include:

  • What are the qualifications assessed by the instrument?
  • Does having an assessment environment and materials free form the specific allergen substance modify the nature or level of what is assessed?

Determining appropriate assessment accommodations necessarily requires research and analysis of all three elements above; of the impact they have one another, and the application of the Principles for assessment accommodations. This analysis is the foundation of the rationale for the accommodations. This rational has to explain how the accommodations are enabling the demonstration of the person's qualifications, preventing his or her functional limitations from being a disadvantage. It also has to explain how the person is not being given an advantage compared to others in the appointment process, therefore, that merit is preserved.

Examples of assessment accommodations and considerations

The following are examples and considerations that may be helpful in determining assessment accommodations. It also includes a number of specific examples of assessment accommodations relative to possible functional limitations.

While reviewing these examples, keep in mind that accommodations are determined on a case by case basis and their appropriateness will depend on the nature and extent of the individual's functional limitations, the assessment tool to be used and the qualification to be assessed. Also, accommodations must resemble, if possible, the usual way in which the person would perform the task requested as if he or she was on the job, and must not alter the nature or level of the qualification being assessed. For more details, please refer to Determining and implementing assessment accommodations.

  • Allow the person to take written examinations in an environment that is free from allergens. Having a back-up examination room could also be a good preventive measure.
  • When the allergen is perfume for example, inform examiners and other participant that no perfume or scented products should be used, and that no clothing that has come into contact with perfume should be worn. For example, a wool sweater or coat can retain perfume in its fibres for many days.
  • Depending on the severity of the person's sensitivity, you may wish to ask for a contact number in the event of an emergency or severe attack.

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