The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued new technical assistance document (“TAD”), “Visual Disabilities in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act,” addressing how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to job applicants and employees with visual disabilities. Like the technical assistance the EEOC published earlier this year on hearing disabilities in the workplace, the EEOC provides a series of questions and answers as well as example workplace scenarios involving individuals with visual impairments. In particular the TAD addresses the following:

  • when an employer may ask an applicant or employee questions about a vision impairment and how an employer should treat voluntary disclosures;
  • what types of reasonable accommodations applicants or employees with visual disabilities may need;
  • how an employer should handle safety concerns about applicants and employees with visual disabilities; and
  • how an employer can ensure that no employee is harassed because of a visual disability.

The TAD is not binding law but reflects the EEOC’s enforcement position on topics informative for all employers navigating their obligations under the ADA.

The TAD provides insight into visual disabilities, and how they may trigger ADA obligations. For example, the EEOC explains that not everyone who wears glasses is visually disabled. For individuals who wear “ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses,” the ADA directs the employer to assess their visual impairment as it is corrected by the lenses. In addition, the EEOC identifies potential accommodations for individuals with visual disabilities, such as use of assistive technology like text-to-speech software, braille, allowing the use of guide dogs in the work area, ambient adjustments (such as brighter office lights), larger print, or training and test modifications to accommodate the visual impairment. The TAD includes an extensive list of potential assistive or accessible technology or materials as well as other potential strategies for accommodating individuals with visual disabilities in the workplace.

The EEOC also reminds employers that in some instances algorithmic or AI tools may “screen out” individuals with vision disabilities even though they are able to do the job with or without reasonable accommodation. For example, if an AI assessment’s accuracy is reduced when an applicant has a visual disability, the employer may need to consider an alternative assessment. The EEOC discusses “promising practices” that employers can take to ensure that AI tools do not disadvantage individuals with disabilities.

The EEOC also addresses when an employer may ask an applicant or employee questions about a vision impairment. The EEOC reminds employers that the ADA’s rules about disability-related inquiries and medical exams apply to all applicants and employees regardless of whether they have an ADA disability. “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, as used by this employer, is shown to be job-related and consistent with business necessity.”

The TAD provides a detailed discussion of the ADA rules regarding medical inquiries and exams at the pre-offer, post-offer and employment stages with examples involving vision impairments. At the pre-offer stage, for example, the EEOC reminds employers that they cannot ask an applicant whether they have a condition that affects their vision or may have caused a vision impairment but an employer may ask an applicant questions pertaining to the ability to perform job functions with or without reasonable accommodation such as the following:

  • whether the applicant can read labels on packages that need to be stocked;
  • whether the applicant can work the night shift; or
  • whether the applicant can inspect small electronic components to determine if they have been damaged.

The EEOC’s TAD also discusses how employers can address safety concerns. The EEOC’s position is that employers may exclude individuals with visual or other disabilities from a job for safety reasons only when the individual poses a direct threat to the employee, co-workers or others. If an employer reasonably believes the employee cannot safely perform the essential functions of the job (because of a visual or other impairment), the employer may conduct an individualized assessment of that employee’s ability to safely perform the essential functions of the job. That determination must be made based on reasonable medical judgment. If an employer’s vision-related job requirement is required by safety-related federal law or regulation, however, the EEOC explains that qualification standard will be a permissible business necessity under the ADA. The EEOC reminds employer to carefully review any applicable law including any potential waivers or exceptions that may apply.

It is important to also keep in mind any state or local laws that may provide protections in addition to those available under the ADA. If you have any questions about navigating your obligations under the ADA, please reach out to a Jackson Lewis lawyer.