The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law
that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. Title I of the ADA
makes it unlawful for any employer to discriminate against a qualified applicant
or employee because of a disability in any aspect of employment. The ADA covers
employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments.
Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act provides the same protections for federal
government employees and applicants. In addition, most states have their own
laws prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of disability. Some of
these state laws may apply to smaller employers and provide protections in
addition to those available under the ADA.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
enforces the employment provisions of the ADA. This is part of a series of
question-and-answer documents addressing particular disabilities in the
workplace.(1) It explains how the ADA might apply
to job applicants and employees with vision impairments. In particular, this
- when a vision impairment is a disability under the ADA;
- under what circumstances an employer may ask an
applicant or employee questions about a vision impairment;
- what types of reasonable accommodations employees with
visual disabilities may need; and,
- how an employer can prevent harassment of employees
with visual disabilities or any other disability.
GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT VISION IMPAIRMENTS
Estimates vary as to the number of Americans who are blind
and visually impaired. According to one estimate, approximately 10 million
people in the United States are blind or visually impaired.(2)
Other estimates indicate that one million adults older than the age of 40 are
blind, and 2.4 million are visually impaired.(3)
Over the next 30 years, as the baby-boomer generation ages, the number of adults
with vision impairments is expected to double.(4)
Recent figures also indicate that only 46% of working-age adults with vision
impairments and 32% of legally blind working-age adults are employed.(5)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
define "vision impairment" to mean that a person's eyesight cannot be
corrected to a "normal level."(6)
Vision impairment may result in a loss of visual acuity, where an individual
does not see objects as clearly as the average person, and/or in a loss of
visual field, meaning that an individual cannot see as wide an area as the
average person without moving the eyes or turning the head. There are varying
degrees of vision impairments, and the terms used to describe them are not
always consistent. The CDC and the World Health Organization define low vision
as a visual acuity between 20/70 and 20/400 with the best possible correction,
or a visual field of 20 degrees or less.(7)
Blindness is described as a visual acuity worse than 20/400 with the best
possible correction, or a visual field of 10 degrees or less. In the United
States, the term "legally blind," means a visual acuity of 20/200 or
worse with the best possible correction, or a visual field of 20 degrees or
less. Although there are varying degrees of vision impairments, the visual
problems an individual faces cannot be described simply by the numbers; some
people can see better than others with the same visual acuity.(8)
There are many possible causes for vision impairment,
including damage to the eye and the failure of the brain to interpret messages
from the eyes correctly. The most common causes of vision impairment in American
adults are: diabetic retinopathy,(9) age-related
macular degeneration,(10) cataracts,(11)
and glaucoma.(12) Additionally, many individuals
have monocular vision - perfect or nearly perfect vision in one eye, but little
or no vision in the other. Vision impairment can occur at any time in life, but
as a person's age increases, so does the likelihood that he or she will have
some form of vision impairment.(13)
Persons with vision impairments successfully perform a
wide range of jobs and can be dependable workers. Yet, many employers still
automatically exclude them from certain positions based on generalizations about
vision impairments and false assumptions that it would be too expensive, or
perhaps even too dangerous, to employ them. Thus, employers may erroneously
assume that any accommodation that would allow a person with a vision impairment
to do her job would be too costly. Employers also may have liability concerns
related to the fear of accidents and/or injuries.
1. When is a vision impairment a disability
under the ADA?
A vision impairment is a disability if: (1) it
substantially limits a major life activity; (2) it was substantially limiting in
the past (i.e., if an individual has a "record of" a substantially
limiting impairment); or (3) an employer "regards" or treats an
individual as having a substantially limiting vision impairment. Major life
activities are those basic activities, including seeing, that an average person
can perform with little or no difficulty.
Whether a vision impairment actually substantially limits
a major life activity depends on how significant the visual loss is. While a
person who has no sight at all is obviously substantially limited in seeing, the
assessment of most vision impairments requires a more individualized approach.
Although mitigating measures that the individual uses, such as corrective lenses
and compensatory strategies that the body has developed, must be taken into
account, they do not automatically exclude someone from coverage under the first
part of the ADA's definition of "disability."
Example 1: An individual
with a vision impairment wears eyeglasses, but they improve his poor vision only
slightly. Even with eyeglasses, he cannot drive and needs strong magnification
to read standard-sized print. This individual is substantially limited in
Mitigating measures do not include devices, reasonable
accommodations, or compensatory strategies that simply compensate for the fact
that an individual is substantially limited in seeing. For example, a totally
blind person still meets the ADA's first definition of "disability"
even if she can move about freely with the use of a white cane or service
animal, can work with assistive technology or a reader, and can use her hearing
to do what others can do using sight (e.g., cross a street).
Individuals with monocular vision also may meet the ADA's
first definition of disability.(14)
Example 2: An individual
lost all of his sight in one eye as the result of an accident several years ago.
He has learned some compensatory strategies, such as turning his head slightly
to adjust for his loss of visual field and using shadows, highlights, and other
visual cues to judge longer distances. However, he has loss of both peripheral
vision and stereopsis (the ability to combine two retinal images into one that
people with vision in both eyes accomplish easily). The loss of peripheral
vision means that he is limited in seeing people or objects on his blind side
and must position himself accordingly in meetings, theaters, or while walking
down the street. Because he cannot see people approaching or standing on that
side, he must rely on his hearing to detect that someone is near him and then
must turn his head to see the person. The loss of stereopsis means that he has
difficulty judging distances within a six-foot range, and thus cannot use his
vision to guide him in reaching for objects or putting objects down on a table
or other surface. Because of his lack of stereopsis, he must rely on memory or
the sense of touch rather than vision to guide him in picking up and placing
objects such as tools, pots and pans, books and pens. Similarly, he must rely on
memory and tactile clues to negotiate stairs and stepping on and off curbs. All
such tasks are more difficult for him because of his loss of vision and take him
longer to perform than they take the average person. This individual still is
substantially limited in seeing, despite the use of compensatory strategies such
as using hearing, touch, or memory to substitute for his lack of vision in one
Some individuals with monocular vision have learned to
compensate visually (e.g., by turning their head or using "monocular
cues," such as shadows and highlights, to judge distances) effectively
enough that they no longer are substantially limited. These individuals (as well
as many others), however, still may meet one of the ADA's other definitions of
A person who has a record of an impairment that
substantially limited a major life activity in the past or who is regarded by
his employer as having such an impairment also has a disability and, therefore,
is covered by the ADA. Although the second part of the definition -- having a
record of a substantially limiting impairment -- does not apply frequently to
individuals with vision impairments, examples of when it might apply would
include situations in which someone's vision has been corrected surgically, or
when an individual with monocular vision that was once substantially limiting
has developed compensatory strategies over time.
Being "regarded as" substantially limited in
seeing is a more common basis for coverage.
Example 3: As part of the
hiring process for a manufacturing position, an employer requires a physical
exam, including a vision test. An applicant with monocular vision fails the
vision test, which requires a minimum of 20/40 vision in the better eye with
correction, and no less than 20/100 vision in the weaker eye. The physician who
conducted the physical examination recommends to the human resources department
that the applicant not be hired, indicating in a notation on the application:
"Failed vision test; essentially blind in one eye and lacks depth
perception; recommend against hiring for any manufacturing work." In
accordance with its typical practice of deferring to the recommendation of the
employer's doctor, the human resources department withdraws its offer of
employment to the applicant, never assessing whether she can in fact perform the
essential functions of the job. If the doctor's statement that the applicant
should not be hired for "any manufacturing work" meant that the
applicant was unsuitable for manufacturing work generally and not just for a
particular job in the employer's plant, the employer will have regarded the
applicant as substantially limited in working in a class of jobs.
OBTAINING AND USING MEDICAL INFORMATION
Before an Offer of Employment is Made
The ADA limits the medical information that an employer
may seek from a job applicant. An employer may not require a job applicant to
submit to a medical examination or ask about an applicant's disability before
making a job offer. This means, for example, that an employer may not:
- ask about any medical procedures an applicant has had
related to her vision (e.g., whether the applicant ever has had eye
- inquire as to whether the applicant uses any
prescription medications, including medications for conditions related to
the eye; and
- ask whether an applicant has any condition that may
have caused a vision impairment (e.g., whether the applicant has diabetes if
the employer suspects that the applicant has retinopathy).
An employer, however, may ask all applicants if they will
need a reasonable accommodation for the application process. For example, an
employer may include on an application contact information for the person who
will handle accommodation requests. Additionally, an employer may ask all
applicants whether they can meet job-related requirements and may conduct non-
medical tests that require the use of vision and that measure the applicant's
ability to perform job-related functions.
Example 4: An employer who runs a
warehouse may ask all applicants if they can read the labels on products so
that they can be stocked in the appropriate places, or may ask each applicant
to demonstrate that he or she can perform this function.
2. Are there ever situations in which an
employer may ask about an applicant's visual disability before making a job
Yes. If a disability is obvious (or if an applicant
discloses that she has a visual disability) and an employer reasonably believes
the applicant will require a reasonable accommodation to perform the job, the
employer may ask whether the applicant will need a reasonable accommodation and,
if so, what type.
Example 5: A woman
appears with her guide dog for an interview for a job as a school principal. The
position requires significant reading. Because her vision impairment is obvious,
the employer may ask her if an accommodation will be needed to perform functions
that involve reading and, if so, what type.
An employer also may ask a person with a non-obvious
vision impairment who requests a reasonable accommodation for the application
process to provide documentation demonstrating that the condition is a
disability and that the accommodation is necessary. (For more information about
an employer's right to request reasonable documentation, see Question 12,
After an Offer of Employment is Made
3. May an employer ask about an applicant's
vision impairments or conduct medical examinations to test vision after making a
Yes. Once the employer has made a job offer, it may ask
questions about the applicant's health (including questions about whether the
applicant has a visual disability) and may ask for, or require, a medical
examination, as long as all applicants for the same type of position are treated
the same (i.e., all applicants are asked the same questions and are subject to
the same examination). The job offer must be "real," meaning that the
employer has obtained and evaluated all non-medical information that was
reasonably available before making the offer.
If an employer learns from a post-offer inquiry or medical
examination that an applicant has a vision impairment, it may ask medically
related follow-up questions or may conduct medically- related examinations. An
employer may not withdraw an offer from a person whose vision impairment is a
disability, however, unless it can demonstrate that the applicant is unable to
perform the essential functions of the position, with or without a reasonable
accommodation, or that the applicant will pose a direct threat to safety. (For
more information on "direct threat," see Question 15, below.)
Example 6: A county
sheriff with monocular vision applied for a position with the state police as a
criminal investigator. He was highly qualified for the job and was conditionally
offered a position pending qualification under the state police department's
medical criteria for criminal investigators. The doctor who conducted the
medical examination of the applicant determined that because of his monocular
vision he did not meet the state's standards, and the conditional offer of
employment was withdrawn. The state police department did not violate the ADA by
requiring the medical exam. However, if the applicant's monocular vision is a
disability, the department must be prepared to show that the applicant was
unable to do the essential functions of the job, with or without a reasonable
accommodation, or that he would have posed a direct threat if he had been hired.
4. When may an employer ask an employee
questions or require a medical examination related to the employee's vision
The ADA strictly limits the circumstances under which an
employer may ask questions about an employee's medical condition or require the
employee to undergo a medical examination. Generally, an employer may ask an
employee for medical information if the employer has reason to believe that: (1)
there is a medical explanation for some change in the employee's job
performance; or (2) the employee's medical condition may pose a direct threat to
safety. (For other situations in which an employer may ask about an employee's
vision impairments, see Question 5, below).
Example 7: A data entry
clerk has recently been making numerous errors when entering information into
the employer's computer system. For example, he seems to be confusing the
numbers 1, 7, and 9. The clerk's supervisor also has begun to see the clerk
rubbing his eyes frequently and looking more closely at both his computer screen
and printed materials. The employer has a reasonable belief based on objective
evidence that the clerk's performance problems are related to a medical
condition (i.e., an eye problem) and, therefore, may ask for medical
Poor job performance, however, often is unrelated to a
medical condition and, therefore, should generally be handled in accordance with
an employer's existing policies concerning performance.
Example 8: A
receptionist, with a known degenerative eye condition, has not been answering
all the calls that come in to the office in her usual friendly manner. The
employer may counsel the receptionist about how she answers the phone, but may
not ask her questions about her eye condition unless there is evidence that this
may be the reason for her changed demeanor.
5. Are there other instances when an employer
may ask an employee about a vision impairment?
Yes. An employer may ask an employee with a non-obvious
vision impairment who has requested a reasonable accommodation for documentation
demonstrating that he has a disability and needs the accommodation. (See
Question 12, below).
In addition, an employer may ask an employee with a vision
impairment to justify the use of sick leave by providing a doctor's note or
other explanation, as long as it requires all employees to do so.
Example 9: An employer's
leave policy requires all employees who are absent because of a medical
appointment to submit a note from their doctor verifying the appointment. An
employee who uses sick leave for an ophthalmological examination must submit a
note to this effect from her doctor in accordance with the policy. However, the
employer may not require that the note include information about the results of
the examination, or a statement about the employee's diagnosis or treatment (if
Finally, medical information about a vision impairment may
be collected and an eye examination may be conducted as part of an employer's
voluntary wellness program. For example, an employer may offer a voluntary
annual screening for glaucoma so that employees can promptly obtain treatment
where necessary. A wellness program is voluntary if an employee is neither
required to participate, nor penalized for non-participation.(15)
Keeping Medical Information Confidential
An employer must keep all medical information separate
from general personnel files and treat it as a separate, confidential medical
record. Issues regarding confidentiality more frequently arise in regard to
non-obvious conditions; however, even if the impairment is obvious, information
about it must be kept confidential.
Example 10: Most of the
paralegals in a large firm have outdated computer monitors. A paralegal who is
on medication for a disability that causes vision problems requests, and is
given, a new monitor with a special program that allows her to see the screen
better. If the other paralegals ask why she has a new screen and they do not,
the employer may not divulge any information about her impairment, including the
fact that the monitor is a reasonable accommodation.
6. Are there any exceptions to the ADA's
confidentiality requirements that might justify disclosing information about an
employee's vision impairment?
Yes. Information that is otherwise confidential under the
ADA may be disclosed:
- to supervisors and managers who need the information in
order to provide a reasonable accommodation or to meet the employee's work
- to first aid and safety personnel if the employee would
need emergency treatment or other assistance in the event of an emergency
(e.g., in case of a fire), because of his vision impairment;
- to officials who are investigating compliance with the
ADA and similar state or local laws;
- to state workers' compensation offices or workers'
compensation insurance carriers in accordance with state workers'
compensation laws; or
- for insurance purposes.
ACCOMMODATING INDIVIDUALS WITH VISUAL DISABILITIES
An accommodation is any modification or adjustment to a
job or work environment that will permit a qualified individual with a
disability to apply for a job, to perform a job's essential functions (i.e.,
fundamental duties), or to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment.
Under the ADA, employers must provide reasonable accommodations to the known
physical or mental limitations of persons with disabilities. Generally, an
individual with a disability must request a reasonable accommodation before an
employer will have an obligation to provide one. Once an accommodation has been
requested, an employer should engage in an interactive process to determine
whether an individual has a disability that requires an accommodation and, if
so, must make a reasonable effort to determine the appropriate accommodation.
Accommodations vary depending on the needs of the person with the disability.
7. What types of reasonable accommodations may
people with visual disabilities need?
People with visual disabilities may need one or more of
the following accommodations:
- Assistive technology, including:
- A closed circuit television system (CCTV) for
reading printed materials
- An external computer screen magnifier
- Cassette or digital recorders
- Software that will read information on the computer
- An optical scanner that can create documents in
electronic form from printed ones
- Written materials in an accessible format, such as in
large print, Braille, audio cassette, or computer disk
- Modification of employer policies to allow use of a
guide dog in the workplace
- Modification of an employment test
- A reader
- A driver or payment for the cost of transportation to
enable performance of essential functions
- An accessible website
- Modified training or training in the use of assistive
Example 11: An
employer has decided to upgrade its computer programs. In order to teach its
staff about the new systems, it has set up five "hands-on"
training classes in which groups of employees will be shown how to execute
various functions using the new software and then will have an opportunity
to complete a series of exercises using those functions with guidance from
the instructor. Most of the demonstrations and exercises will involve use of
a computer mouse to execute functions. A blind employee who uses a screen
reading program is unable to use a computer mouse effectively and will
require individualized instruction that will enable her to learn how to
perform necessary functions using keyboard commands.
- A modified work schedule
Example 12: A blind
employee does not have easy access to public transportation and must rely on
paratransit service to get to work most mornings. He asks that, on days when
his ride to work arrives after the employer's usual 8:30 a.m. start time, he
be allowed to work later in the evening to make up the time rather than
being required to take annual leave or face discipline for tardiness. The
employer must grant this accommodation as long as it would not result in
- Time off, in the form of accrued paid leave or unpaid
leave if paid leave has been exhausted or is unavailable
Example 13: An
employer provides a total of three weeks of leave (sick and annual leave)
per employee each year. An employee with a degenerative eye condition has,
over time, lost most of her vision and has decided to start using a guide
dog. Training the guide dog will require her to attend a six-week
residential program. Although the six weeks of leave that are needed exceed
the amount of leave provided to each employee, the employer must provide
additional unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation, absent undue
hardship. The same rule would apply if the employee needs time off for
treatment related to a visual disability.
- Reassignment to a vacant position
Example 14: A city
police officer is shot and blinded during an attempt to stop a robbery. He
no longer is able to perform his job as a police officer, but he is
qualified for a vacant 9-1-1 emergency operator position. The job pays less
than a police officer, but it is the closest vacant position in terms of
pay, status, and benefits for which the officer is qualified. The city must
reassign the officer to the 9-1-1 emergency operator position as a
Although these represent some examples of the types of
accommodations commonly requested by applicants or employees with visual
disabilities, other employees may need different changes or adjustments.(16)
Further, although a particular accommodation may work for one person, an
employer should not assume that the same accommodation will work for another
person with the same apparent visual disability.
8. What kinds of reasonable accommodations are
related to the "benefits and privileges" of employment?
Reasonable accommodations related to the "benefits
and privileges" of employment include accommodations that are necessary to
provide individuals with disabilities access to facilities or portions of
facilities to which all employees are granted access (e.g., employee break rooms
and cafeterias), access to information communicated in the workplace, and the
opportunity to participate in employer-sponsored training and social events.
Example 15: An employer
offers employees opportunities to accept six-month assignments to jobs outside
of their work group or department. The temporary assignments are considered
valuable training opportunities that can lead to employee advancement. An
employee with a visual disability, who has worked successfully in her current
position with only slight modifications to her computer equipment, requests a
temporary assignment to a position that will involve considerably more reading
and asks that a part-time reader be provided. The employer may not deny the
temporary assignment because of the need to make a reasonable accommodation, but
must provide a reader or some other effective accommodation if this would not
result in undue hardship.
Example 16: An employer
typically posts job openings on bulletin boards. An employee with a visual
disability requests that electronic notices of all job postings be emailed to
him so that he will have timely notice of the postings. Unless this would result
in undue hardship, the employer must provide this accommodation.
Example 17: An employer
holds a retirement party for a long-time employee. The event includes a dinner
and various presentations by the employee's co-workers and company management. A
formal program is printed for the event, and an employee with a visual
disability requests a copy of the program in large print. The employer must
provide this accommodation, absent undue hardship.
9. How does a person with a vision impairment
request an accommodation?
The request for a reasonable accommodation must be
communicated to the employer. However, no magic words (e.g., "reasonable
accommodation" or "ADA") are needed. The request may be made in
plain English, orally, or in writing, and it may come from the
applicant/employee or from a family member, friend, or other representative.
Example 18: A blind man
calls regarding a job opening he heard advertised on the radio. The employer
explains that part of the application process is a written exam and part is an
in-person interview. The man simply says that he will need some help with the
exam because of his impairment. This is a request for a reasonable
Example 19: While an
employee has been out on extended medical leave for her diabetes, her visual
disability has gradually gotten worse. When she returns to work, she presents a
note from her doctor stating that she will need "some assistance" in
order to perform the essential functions of the job. This is a request for a
10. Does an employer have to grant every request
for a reasonable accommodation?
No. An employer does not have to provide a reasonable
accommodation if doing so would be an undue hardship. Undue hardship means that
providing the reasonable accommodation would result in significant difficulty or
In determining whether the provision of a particular
accommodation would result in undue hardship, an employer should consider not
only the cost of the accommodation in relationship to its own resources, but
also other resources that may be available in the form of tax incentives or
funding from third parties. For example, there are federal tax credits and
deductions to help offset the cost of accommodations,(17)
and some states may offer similar incentives. Additionally, applicants or
employees who are clients of a state's vocational rehabilitation system may be
eligible for funding to pay for workplace accommodations. If a requested
accommodation is too difficult or expensive, an employer must determine whether
there is another easier or less costly accommodation that would meet the
An employer does not have to remove an essential job
function (i.e., a fundamental job duty), lower production standards, excuse
violations of conduct rules that are job-related and consistent with business
necessity, or provide employees with personal use items, such as eyeglasses or
other devices that are used both on and off the job.
11. Does an employer have to provide the
specific reasonable accommodation the person wants?
No. The employer may choose among different reasonable
accommodations as long as the chosen accommodation is effective. Therefore, as
part of the interactive process, the employer may offer more than one suggestion
for a reasonable accommodation. Where two possible reasonable accommodations
exist, and one costs more or is more burdensome than the other, the employer may
choose the less expensive or less burdensome option as long as it is effective.
Similarly, when there are two or more effective accommodations, the employer may
choose the one that is easier to provide. The preference of the person with the
disability should be given primary consideration.
Example 20: An editor for
a publishing company has a visual disability and needs magnification to read
text. She asks the company to hire a full-time reader for her. The employer is
able to purchase a computer program that will magnify text on the screen and
speak the words to her. If this is cheaper and easier for the employer to do,
and allows the editor to do her work just as effectively, then it may be
provided as a reasonable accommodation.
Example 21: A blind job
applicant requests a reader for an employment test. The employer requires the
applicant to take the test in Braille instead, although he has told the employer
he is not proficient in Braille. In this situation, because providing the test
in Braille is not an effective accommodation, the employer must provide a reader
unless to do so would be an undue hardship.
12. May an employer ask for documentation when a
person requests a reasonable accommodation because of a vision impairment?
Sometimes. When a person's vision impairment is not
obvious, the employer may ask the person to provide reasonable documentation
about how the condition limits major life activities (i.e., whether the person
has a disability) and why a reasonable accommodation is needed. The request for
documentation must be reasonable. An employer may not ask for information about
conditions unrelated to the one for which accommodation has been requested or
more information than is necessary for the employer to determine whether an
accommodation is needed.
Example 22: A customer
service representative with a non-obvious vision impairment requests a larger
computer monitor. The employee's ophthalmologist provides a letter describing
the employee's impairment and its limitations. The letter explains that the
employee cannot drive and can read standard-sized print but only very slowly,
for short periods of time, and with considerable effort. The condition is not
expected to deteriorate further, but no improvement is expected either. The
ophthalmologist concludes that providing some kind of magnification device for
the computer or a larger monitor would be helpful. The employee has provided
sufficient documentation that his eye condition is an ADA disability and that he
needs a reasonable accommodation. The employer may not request further
documentation, such as the results of all the tests conducted to diagnose the
13. May an employer be required to provide more
than one reasonable accommodation for the same person with a disability?
Yes. Certain individuals with visual disabilities may
require only one reasonable accommodation, while others may need more than one.
Additionally, because the obligation to provide reasonable accommodation is
ongoing, an employer may have to provide a different reasonable accommodation
when an employee's needs related to a visual disability or the nature of a job
Example 23: An employee
who is blind has assistive technology for his computer that works with the
employer's network and enables him to send and receive email messages easily.
When the employer upgrades computer equipment for all employees, it must provide
new or updated assistive technology so that the blind employee will be
integrated into the new networks, absent undue hardship.
Example 24: An employee
with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye condition that results, over time,
in total or near total blindness, has been able to read printed materials
related to her job with a magnifier and some adjustments to the lighting in her
work area. When she is no longer able to do this, she asks for a reader. Absent
undue hardship, the employer must provide a reader or some other effective
14. Is an employer required to provide a
reasonable accommodation for a vision impairment that alone does not rise to the
level of a disability but results from an underlying disability?
Yes. An employer must accommodate a vision impairment that
results from another disability even if the vision impairment is not itself
Example 25: An applicant
with insulin-dependent diabetes has developed a vision impairment. He wants to
apply for a job as a hotel concierge. One part of the application process is a
written test. Even if his vision problems alone do not rise to the level of a
substantial limitation, the employer is required to make accommodations for this
employee because his vision impairment results from his diabetes, which is a
disability. Accordingly, the employer might allow this applicant more time to
take the written portion of the test if that would accommodate his limitation.
15. When may an employer exclude someone
with a vision impairment because of concerns that the individual will pose a
When it comes to safety concerns, an employer should be
careful not to act on the basis of myths, fears, or stereotypes about vision
impairments. Instead, the employer must evaluate each individual's knowledge,
skills, and experience, as well as how the impairment affects his or her ability
to perform a particular job safely. In other words, in order to exclude someone
whose vision impairment is a disability under the ADA from a job for safety
reasons, an employer must determine that a "direct threat" exists. A
"direct threat" is a significant risk of substantial harm to an
individual with a disability or to others that cannot be reduced or eliminated
through reasonable accommodation.(18) This
assessment must be based on objective, factual evidence that takes into account
the nature of the risk, the severity of the potential harm, the likelihood that
the harm will occur, and the imminence of the harm, as well as the availability
of any reasonable accommodation that might reduce or eliminate the risk.
Example 26: An assembly
line worker has lost much of his vision, but because he has held his job for
more than ten years, he can effectively perform the job's functions using a
combination of his remaining limited vision and touch. The employer's normal
practice is to flash an alarm light when there is an assembly line malfunction
that could cause injuries to workers. Rather than discharging the employee
because he no longer is able to see the flashing light and may therefore be in
harm's way, the employer should consider installing an audio alarm to
Example 27: A blind sous-chef
who began working as a line cook and has worked in restaurants for 15 years in
positions of increasing levels of responsibility applies for a job at a newly
opened restaurant. Although it initially takes him slightly more time than other
workers to learn the layout of the kitchen, once he does so he is able to move
about easily and safely. The combination of his experience, his use of touch to
perform some tasks that other workers perform visually, and a few simple
accommodations, such as Braille labels on oven controls, enables him to use all
kitchen equipment and to supervise kitchen staff. The restaurant may not refuse
to hire this chef on the ground that he cannot work safely in a busy kitchen.
Example 28: An individual
with a severe visual disability is hired to work as a line cook. He has
difficulty, however, learning the layout of the kitchen and barely avoids
bumping into three different co-workers, two of whom were carrying trays of food
just removed from the oven and one who was carrying a pot of boiling water. He
also has been warned several times about placing his hands too close to open
flames and fryers filled with hot oil, but he has failed to do anything to
correct these problems. This individual poses a direct threat to his own health
and safety and to the health and safety of others.
"OTHER FEDERAL LAWS" DEFENSE
16. May an employer refuse to hire an individual
with a visual disability because another federal law requires it to do so?
Yes. There are federal safety laws that may require an
employer to exclude individuals with certain kinds of visual disabilities from
certain types of jobs. For example, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)
has regulations that require a certain level of visual acuity for interstate
drivers of commercial motor vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds. An
employer may defend a claim of discrimination under the ADA on the ground that
it was complying with the DOT regulation.
However, an employer may not rely on this defense where
the other federal law does not in fact require exclusion of the
individual with a disability (e.g., where the employer applies federal standards
to jobs other than those to which they are specifically intended to apply).
Example 29: A courier
service that uses vans and small trucks weighing less than 10,000 pounds may not
use the DOT standards applicable to commercial motor vehicles weighing more than
10,000 pounds to automatically exclude applicants with monocular vision from
driver jobs. The employer may exclude a particular applicant with monocular
vision only if it can demonstrate that she would pose a direct threat. (See
Question 15, above.)
Employers are prohibited from harassing or allowing
employees with disabilities to be harassed in the workplace. When harassment is
brought to an employer's attention, management and/or the supervisor must take
steps to stop it.
17. What constitutes illegal harassment under
The ADA prohibits unwelcome conduct based on disability
that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile or abusive work
environment. Acts of harassment may include verbal abuse, such as name-calling,
behavior such as offensive graphic and written statements, or conduct that is
physically threatening or harmful or humiliating. The law does not protect
workers with disabilities (or any workers) from merely rude or uncivil conduct.
To be actionable, conduct related to an employee's visual disability must be
perceived by the affected individual as abusive and must be sufficiently severe
or pervasive that a reasonable person would perceive it as hostile and abusive.
Example 30: A grocery
store cashier with a visual disability is frequently taunted by his co-workers.
They regularly ask him how many fingers they are holding up and take away his
white cane and tell him to go find it. This behavior is actionable
18. What should employers do to prevent and
Employers should make clear that they will not tolerate
harassment based on disability or on any other basis (i.e., race, sex, religion,
national origin, or age). This can be done in a number of ways, such as through
a written policy, employee handbooks, staff meetings, and periodic training. The
employer should emphasize that harassment is prohibited and that employees
should promptly report such conduct to a manager or other designated official.
Finally, the employer should immediately conduct a thorough investigation of any
report of harassment and take swift and appropriate corrective action. For more
information on the standards governing harassment under federal EEO laws, see http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/harassment.html.
19. What should someone do who believes that his
or her rights under the ADA may have been violated?
Any person who believes that his or her employment rights
have been violated on the basis of disability and wants to make a claim against
an employer, must file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. A third party
also may file a charge on behalf of another person claiming to be aggrieved. For
example, a family member or other representative can file a charge on behalf of
someone with a vision impairment. (All EEOC offices are accessible, and EEOC
provides reasonable accommodations as needed for the charge process.) The charge
must be filed by mail or in person with the local EEOC office within 180 days
from the date of the alleged violation. The 180-day filing deadline is extended
to 300 days if the charge also is covered by a state or local
The EEOC will notify the employer of the charge and may
ask for responses and supporting information. Before formal investigation, the
EEOC may select the charge for its mediation program, which may prevent a
time-consuming investigation of the charge. Participation in mediation is free,
voluntary, and confidential.
If the mediation is unsuccessful, the EEOC investigates
the charge to determine if there is "reasonable cause" to believe
discrimination has occurred. If reasonable cause is found, the EEOC will then
try to resolve the charge with the employer. In some cases, where the charge
cannot be resolved, the EEOC will file a court action. If the EEOC finds no
discrimination, or if an attempt to resolve the charge fails and the EEOC
decides not to file suit, it will issue a notice of a "right to sue,"
which gives the charging party 90 days to file a court action. A charging party
also may request a notice of "right to sue" from the EEOC 180 days
after the charge was first filed with the Commission and may then bring suit
within 90 days after receiving the notice. For a detailed description of the
process, visit our website at http://www.eeoc.gov/charge/overview_charge_filing.html.
For issues relating to federal employment, please refer to our website at http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/fs-fed.html.
The ADA prohibits retaliation by an employer against
someone who opposes discriminatory employment practices, files a charge of
employment discrimination, or testifies or participates in any way in an
investigation, proceeding, or litigation. This is true even if the person who
files the charge is not a person with a disability. Persons who believe that
they have been retaliated against may file a charge of retaliation with the EEOC
as described above.
1. See Questions and
Answers About Diabetes in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act
Questions and Answers About Epilepsy in the Workplace and the Americans with
Disabilities Act (ADA), http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/epilepsy.html,
Questions and Answers About People with Intellectual Disabilities in the
Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act, http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/intellectual
_disabilities.html, and Questions and Answers About Cancer in the Workplace
and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/cancer.html.
2. American Foundation for
the Blind (AFB), http://www.afb.org.
3. Vision Problems in the
U.S.: Prevalence of Adult Impairment and Age-Related Eye Disease in America
(2002), joint report by the National Eye Institute and Prevent Blindness
5. Job Accommodation Network,
Work-Site Accommodation Ideas for Individuals with Vision Impairments, citing
AFB statistics from 2000, http://www.jan.wvu.edu/media/Sight.html.
6. CDC, National Center on
Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD), http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/dd/ddvi.htm.
7. A person with a visual
acuity of 20/70 can see at 20 feet what a person with normal sight can see at 70
feet. A person with a visual acuity of 20/400 can see at 20 feet what a person
with normal vision can see at 400 feet. The visual fields normally extend
outward over an angle of about 90 degrees on either side of the midline of the
face. A normal visual field is about 160-170 degrees horizontally. Id.
9. Diabetic retinopathy is
the term used to describe changes in the blood vessels of the retina due to
diabetes, which can cause vision impairments and blindness. Not all people with
diabetes develop this condition. See Major Causes of Blindness (National
Federation of the Blind 1995), at http://www.blind.net
(follow "General Information About Blindness" hyperlink; then follow
"Major Causes of Blindness" hyperlink).
10. Macular degeneration
refers to the breakdown of the macula, the part of the retina which forms the
sharpest view of an object. The disorder, which occurs with age, varies in the
speed with which it affects people and often can be corrected with magnifying
11. Cataracts are opacities
and clouding of the lens of the eye that block the passage of light. They can be
present at birth but tend to increase with age. They often can be surgically
12. Glaucoma is a condition
characterized by a build-up of the clear fluid in the forward part of the eye
that does not drain properly and causes increased pressure inside the eye. If
left uncontrolled, the condition can cause damage to the eye that results in
blurred vision, a narrow field of vision, and eventually total blindness.
Glaucoma can often be successfully controlled with medication, though surgery is
sometimes necessary. Glaucoma is responsible for one of every seven or eight
cases of blindness. Id.
13. National Center for
Health Statistics, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Summary Health
Statistics for U.S. Adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2002, Vital and
Health Statistics, Series 10, No. 222 (DHHS Publication No. 2004-1550) (July
14. See Albertson's,
Inc. v. Kirkingburg, 527 U.S. 555 (1999)(While monocular vision
"inevitably leads to some loss of horizontal field of vision and depth
perception" and "ordinarily" will constitute a disability, the
ADA requires individuals to prove, on a case-by-case basis, that their
limitations are "substantial.")
15. See EEOC
Enforcement Guidance: Disability-Related Inquiries and Medical Examinations of
Employees Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) at Question 22 (July
26, 2000), http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/guidance-inquiries.html.
16. See the Job
Accommodation Network's Searchable Online Accommodation Resource (SOAR), http://www.jan.wvu.edu/soar/vision.html.
17. See Know the
Rules Regarding Tax Incentives for Improving Accessibility for the Disabled
For additional information on tax benefits, contact the U.S. Internal Revenue
Service at 800-829-3676 (voice) or 800-829-4059 (TDD).
18. 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(r).