About 18.4% of all U.S. adults are visually impaired, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means they are blind or have a great deal of difficulty seeing even when wearing prescription glasses.
The causes vary. Some visually impaired people have eye diseases like macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, or diabetic retinopathy. Others may have vision in just one eye. Some may have injured their eyes or were born blind.
Visual impairments and related limitations may qualify as disabilities under the ADA and require reasonable accommodations.
Not everyone who has difficulty seeing is disabled. If eyeglasses largely correct mild impairments such as near-sightedness, the person is not disabled. However, someone who uses more extensive corrective devices such as low-vision lenses or magnifiers may be disabled. Note that their disability is assessed without the use of corrective devices, which function as accommodation tools.
New EEOC guidance
In August 2023, the EEOC issued updated guidance on accommodating visual disabilities in the workplace.
The guidance explains that the ADA bars disability discrimination and requires employers to reasonably accommodate disabled applicants and employees so they can perform the essential functions of the job. What’s reasonable depends on the size of the employer, its assets and resources, and whether the requested accommodation is unduly expensive or disruptive. Blindness and less limiting visual impairments often qualify as disabilities under the ADA if they substantially impair major life activities like seeing, working and caring for oneself.
Common accommodations for employees with visual impairments include the use of assistive technology and environmental modifications like:
- Software that converts computer text into audible words or braille
- Optical character recognition software that creates documents in screen-readable electronic form from printed documents
- Written materials in large print, braille or other accessible formats
- Low-vision optical devices such as magnifiers
- Smartphones and tablets with built-in accessibility features like text-to-speech
- Braille keyboards
- Modified work schedules to facilitate taking public transportation
- Telework opportunities
- Modifications to training so employees can participate.
Visually impaired employees may also be entitled to time off related to their disability when no other leave is available.
Note: Visually impaired applicants who request reasonable accommodations in the hiring process are entitled to them. If the applicant uses a service animal to navigate, the animal must be permitted to accompany the visually impaired applicant. If you hire the applicant, you will need to allow the service animal to assist the employee as needed and may need to provide other accommodations.
Online resources The Department of Labor’s Job Accommodations Network offers a wealth of information about accommodating visual impairments. In addition, the EEOC has new guidance on accommodating employees with visual impairments at www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/visual-disabilities-workplace-and-americans-disabilities-act.