EEOC Issues New Guidance on Visual Disabilities in the Workplace
On July 26, 2023, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) issued new guidance on how the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) applies to job applicants and employees with vision impairments.
More specifically, the new technical assistance document addresses the following topics:
- 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 document follows the EEOC’s other recent publications with a series of question-and-answers addressing particular disabilities. In this latest guidance, the EEOC defines “visual disabilities” as any disabilities related to an individual’s vision. It also uses the phrase “vision impairments” to refer to various vision-related conditions, including blindness and low vision, as well as limited visual fields, photosensitivity, color vision deficiencies, or night blindness. A vision impairment constitutes a visual disability if it meets one of the three customary definitions of disability (“actual,” “record of,” or “regarded as”).
According to the EEOC, many individuals with vision impairments can successfully and safely perform their jobs, with or without reasonable accommodation. Under the ADA, 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 (whether related to provision of reasonable accommodation or for other reasons), or may have difficulty performing certain job duties. In other words, the EEOC requires an individualized assessment to determine whether an individual’s vision impairment poses a “direct threat.”
The guidance is an excellent resource for employers in providing examples of common situations that arise with employees and applicants with visual disabilities, and how the EEOC expects those situations to be handled. This includes addressing privacy issues and specific reasonable accommodations. For example, the newest release provides a non-exhaustive list of possible vision related accommodations: assistive technology (such as text-to-speech software); accessible materials (such as braille or large print); modification of workplace/employer policies or procedures (such as allowing the use of guide dogs in the work area), testing (such as allowing alternative testing), or training; ambient adjustments (such as brighter office lights); or sighted assistance or services (such as a qualified reader). Finally, the EEOC addresses employer use of software using algorithms and artificial intelligence as a decision-making or screening tool to assess job performance or qualifications and the potential for adversely effecting applicants or employees with disabilities.
Although this document does not have the force and effect of law, it is helpful insight into the Commission’s enforcement priorities and expectations for employers who encounter job applicants and employees with vision impairments.
If you would like additional information on this latest guidance or any related ADA issues, please contact the Maynard Nexsen labor and employment law group.
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