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EEOC updates guidance on visual disabilities

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently issued new guidance on how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to job applicants and employees with vision impairments.

In particular, the guidance 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 EEOC guidance refers to both “visual disabilities” as well as “vision impairments,” such as limited field of vision, color deficiencies, night blindness, or photosensitivity. The EEOC stipulates that individuals with vision impairments should not be denied employment opportunities based on stereotypes or assumptions, but rather on an individualized assessment of their ability to perform the job safely and successfully.

Here are some takeaways from the guidance:

  • Applicants

The EEOC guidance addresses when an employer may ask questions about an applicant’s vision impairment. For example, an employer cannot ask someone whether they have a medical condition that affects their vision. However, they can ask about a person’s ability to perform job functions, with or without reasonable accommodation, such as:

  • 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.

According to the EEOC, if a vision impairment is obvious, or the applicant has disclosed an              impairment, the employer may ask if the applicant will need an accommodation.

  • Employees

Generally, an employer may ask disability-related questions and/or require an employee to have a medical examination when it has a reasonable belief, based on objective evidence, that an employee’s ability to perform the job will be impaired or that the employee will pose a direct safety threat at work.

In an example scenario, the guidance refers to a data entry clerk who has started making numerous errors. The employee has been observed rubbing his eyes and looking more closely at his computer screen. Based on those observations, the employer has a reasonable belief, based on objective evidence, that the employee’s performance issues could be related to an eye condition and may, therefore, ask for medical information.

  • Accommodations

Employers should engage in the interactive process and should not assume that accommodations are impossible. The guidance emphasizes that employers should consider a range of accommodations, including assistive technology, lighting adjustments, audible alarms, accessible materials, allowing the use of guide animals, and more.

  • AI

Employers should take steps to ensure that AI or other decision-making tools do not screen out applicants with visual disabilities. Consider when alternative testing formats would provide a more accurate assessment of a person’s abilities.

  • Workplace environment

Employers should evaluate whether accommodations are necessary in other areas such as break rooms, gyms, and cafeterias, in workplace communications, and in employer-sponsored training and social events. Further, employers are reminded that they have a duty to prevent and address any employee harassment related to the person’s disability.

The guidance is not legally binding but provides helpful insight into the EEOC’s enforcement priorities and expectations. Employers should be familiar with the guidance, thoroughly understand when and how they can ask about an impairment and stay open-minded when considering accommodations.