The EEOC recently issued an updated version of its Visual Disabilities in the Workplace and Americans with Disabilities Act technical assistance document. The document addresses when employers may ask employees questions about a visual impairment, possible reasonable accommodations for applicants or employees with visual disabilities, how to handle safety concerns, and harassment prevention. The term “visual disabilities” refers to any disabilities related to an individual’s vision. The phrase “vision impairments” refers to various vision-related conditions, including blindness, low vision, limited visual fields, photosensitivity, color vision deficiencies, or night blindness.
The document explains that many individuals with vision impairments can successfully and safely perform their jobs, with or without reasonable accommodation, and that these individuals should not be denied employment opportunities for which they are qualified based on stereotypes or incorrect assumptions that they may cause safety hazards, may increase employment costs, or may have difficulty performing certain job duties. Individuals who wear ordinary glasses or contact lenses are not considered disabled under the ADA. In addition, an employer cannot require an individual to take a vision test with uncorrected vision or meet a vision standard with uncorrected vision unless that test or standard is job-related and consistent with business necessity.
The document also discusses an employer’s ability to ask questions related to visual disabilities. Regarding job applicants:
- Employers may not ask whether an applicant has or had a vision impairment or treatment related to any vision impairment before making a job offer. Employers can ask questions pertaining to the applicant’s ability to perform job functions with or without reasonable accommodation. For example, an employer can ask whether the applicant can read labels on packages that need to be stocked.
- Applicants are not required to disclose a current or past visual disability before accepting a job offer.
- If an applicant has an obvious vision impairment or if an applicant voluntarily discloses a vision impairment, and the employer reasonably believes that the applicant will require an accommodation to perform the job, the employer may ask the applicant whether one is required and what type.
- After making a job offer, an employer may ask questions about the applicant’s health, including visual disabilities, so long as the employer is asking the same questions to other individuals entering the same job.
As for employees:
- An employer may ask an employee about a visual disability only when it has a reasonable belief that the employee’s ability to perform the essential job functions is impaired or that the employee will pose a direct threat in the workplace.
- An employer may ask an employee about a vision impairment to support the employee’s request for a reasonable accommodation needed because of a vision impairment, to enable the employee to participate in a voluntary wellness program, to comply with federal safety statutes or regulations, or to verify the employee’s use of sick leave related to a vision impairment if the employer requires all employees to provide such information (such as doctors’ notes) to justify their use of sick leave.
The document also discusses some examples of reasonable accommodations, including:
- Assistive or accessible technology or materials (such as text-to-speech software; optical character recognition; systems with audible, tactile, or vibrating feedback; website modifications for accessibility; written materials in more accessible or alternate formats; low vision optical devices; digital apps or recorders; smartphone or tablet apps with built-in accessibility features; an interactive, tactile, graphical display; a desktop, handheld, or wearable video magnifier, or a closed-circuit television system for reading printed materials; computer screen magnification tools; adjustable computer operating system settings; prescription versions of workplace equipment; wayfinding tools or tracking devices; anti-glare shields, light filters, or wearable absorptive filters; large print or high-contrast keyboards; talking products; color identification technology; accessible maps)
- Modification of employer policies or procedures, testing, or training (such as workplace etiquette modifications, policy modifications to allow use of personal use items, dress code modifications, allowing the use of an assistance animal, modifying work schedules, making remote work available, time off, alteration of marginal job functions, reassignment to a vacant position)
- Work area adjustments (such as a workspace with brighter or lower lights, audible or tactile signs and warning surfaces)
- Sighted assistance or services (such as screen-sharing technology, qualified readers, sighted guides, noise-cancelling headphones, braille labeler)
Finally, employers should make clear that they will not tolerate harassment based on disability or any other protected basis. Employers can do this through a written policy, employee handbooks, staff meetings, and periodic training. Employers should immediately conduct a thorough investigation of any report of harassment and take swift and appropriate corrective action.
If you have any questions about this Alert, we encourage you to contact your Shulman Rogers attorney for solutions and recommendations.