The legal definition of blindness refers to a clinical diagnosis of 20/200 or less in at least one eye when it is equipped with the most powerful correction. If a person has a visual field of less than 20 degrees, they are also considered legally blind.
The term legal blindness is used to reference a medical condition severe enough to make an individual eligible for medical benefits and reasonable accommodations related to blindness.
Is It Legal to Deny Someone a Job Due to Blindness?
It is illegal to practice employment discrimination against individuals who are blind. The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, outlines protections for legally blind employees that must be followed by employers with more than 15 people on staff. All government employees are also protected by Title I of the ADA. State and local laws often mirror federal laws or supplement them with additional protections.
What If the Blindness Poses a Safety Concern?
However, the ADA does make provisions for safety considerations. If a person’s legal blindness poses a “direct threat” to himself or others, an employer may refuse to hire a legally blind person. However, the potential harm must be substantial. It must also be impossible to reduce or remove the risk with reasonable accommodations.
In making decisions about who to hire with legal blindness as a consideration, employers must base their decisions on factual evidence and the highest quality, most recent medical evidence. The employer must take into account likelihood of risk, severity of harm, and imminence of harm.
Employers must also take into account whether any reasonable accommodations could be made to assist the legally blind employee with their job. Examples of reasonable accommodations include:
- Magnifiers on computer screens
- Audio recordings of printed materials
- Scanners to convert electronic documents to printed documents
- Braille tools and materials
- Ability to work from home
- Guide dogs
- A person who can read to the legally blind employee
How Can Employers Defend Themselves?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, is responsible for enforcing ADA guidelines. Employers who have denied jobs to legally blind people, terminated legally blind people, or blocked legally blind people from promotion or advancement, may be vulnerable to discrimination charges.
If an employer has assessed the risk of hiring or promoting a legally blind person, has determined that the risk is imminent, the potential harm caused by the legally blind person is severe, and if the employer have determined that any accommodations to help the person would be unreasonable, they are more likely to be able to present a successful defense against a discrimination charge.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
If you think you have been discriminated against in the workplace because of legal blindness, or if you are an employer who might have an EEOC claim against you, an employment lawyer can help you devise the best possible case, advise you regarding your legal options, and represent you during settlement talks and court proceedings.