Yesterday, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released a new technical assistance document called “Visual Disabilities in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
Sure, you could read all 59 pages of it. Or I can digest it here for you in a few hundred words—your choice.
(Thanks for sticking with me.)
The EEOC’s newest release addresses four 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 answer to the first question depends on when. Before making a job offer, don’t ask about vision impairments. Likewise, an applicant doesn’t have to volunteer this information. It’s okay to ask after making a job offer. But be consistent. And, with limited exceptions, keep that medical information confidential.
When it comes to helping individuals with vision disabilities perform the essential functions of their job, consider this non-exhaustive list of possible 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); sighted assistance or services (such as a qualified reader); or other modifications or adjustments that allow a qualified applicant or employee with an ADA disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities.
Of course, vision problems may create safety issues in the workplace. Suppose the employer has a reasonable belief based on objective evidence that an individual’s visual disability may pose safety issues. In that case, it should follow the ADA’s “direct threat” analysis, which involves assessing potential risk and discerning the possibility that reasonable accommodations might reduce or eliminate such risk.
But don’t play doctor, and don’t stereotype. That’s a great way to end up with an EEOC charge and pay a lawyer like me to defend you. I won’t lose much sleep over it, especially when I sleep on 3,000 thread count sheets.
And how does an employer prevent harassment of individuals with visual disabilities? Come on! Start with a handbook and training. Emphasize that the company takes harassment seriously. Encourage reporting. Investigate complaints and take action reasonably designed to end the complained-of behavior.