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New ADA Guidance on Employees with Vision Impairments

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued new guidance for employers to provide reasonable accommodations for visually impaired workers who request it.

About 18.4% of all American adults have at least some difficulty with their vision, even when wearing corrective lenses, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new guidance addresses what employers who have a vision-impaired job applicant or worker can and can’t do under the Americans with Disabilities Act and what to do if they request, or if you want to offer them, specific accommodations to help them perform their jobs better and more safely (or help them complete the application process).

Under the ADA, if a worker with a disability asks for accommodation so they can better perform their job, their employer must enter into an interactive process with them to discuss ways that accommodation would be possible. You do not have to provide an accommodation if doing so would be an “undue hardship.”

Here are the main points of the EEOC guidance:

Reasonable accommodation

The guidance lays out a number of accommodations that employers can provide for workers or job applicants with visual impairments, including:

  • Guide dogs
  • Assistive technology, including:
  • Screen readers (or text-to-speech software). These are software applications that can convert written text on a computer screen into spoken words or a Braille display. These tools can allow individuals to quickly review written text.
  • Optical character-recognition technology that can create documents in screen-readable electronic form from printed ones, including an optical scanner (desktop, handheld or wearable).
  • Systems with audible, tactile or vibrating feedback, such as proximity detectors, which can alert individuals if they are too close to an object or another person.
  • Website modifications for accessibility. This entails taking steps to ensure that job applicants and employees can access and timely complete job applications, online tests or other screening tools.
  • Documents in Braille or large print
  • Ambient adjustments (such as brighter office lights); and sighted assistance or services (such as a qualified reader)

Asking about vision impairment

According to the new guidance, applicants are not required to disclose they have any type of vision impairment or disability unless they are seeking a reasonable accommodation to assist with some aspect of the application process, such as a larger font or Braille on the written application.

Employers cannot generally ask questions about obvious vision impairment. However, if you “reasonably believe” the applicant will need an accommodation to perform the job, you may ask if one is needed, and if so, what type.

For example, if a job applicant uses a white cane when entering the room for a job interview, you can ask if they would need a reasonable accommodation in the workplace.

During the period where an applicant discloses that they have or had a vision impairment after receiving a conditional job offer, but before starting work, the employer may ask the applicant additional questions, such as:

  • How long the applicant has had the vision impairment.
  • What, if any, vision the applicant has.
  • The applicant’s specific visual limitations and what reasonable accommodations may be needed to perform the job.

The takeaway

The EEOC guidance is expansive, and this article focuses on the main parts of it. Among the other areas it covers are:

  • How an employer should handle safety concerns about applicants and employees with visual disabilities.
  • How an employer can ensure that no employee is harassed because of a visual disability.
  • The importance of keeping medical records of workers with a vision disability confidential.
  • How to avoid discriminating against individuals who are vision-impaired.

Finally, considering that nearly one in five U.S. adults has some form of visual impairment, this guidance aims to help employers find a solution for reasonable accommodation. Many accommodations can be implemented with little cost to a business.

For other human resources issues, remember that VMA members get access to a free 24/7 hotline answered by human resource experts. Contact shannon@visualmediaalliance.org for more information and how to get access.

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