The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of disability. The ADA makes it illegal for any employer to discriminate against a qualified applicant or employee due to a disability. The ADA applies to employers with 15 or more employees, state and local governments, and the federal government.
Enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against employees. An employer may not refuse to hire or fire an employee due to a visual impairment unless the loss of eyesight prevents the worker from performing the job.
What is the Legal Definition of Blindness?
The legal definition of blindness refers to a clinical diagnosis of 20/200 eyesight or less in at least one eye when it is equipped with the most powerful correction. If a person has a visual field of lower than 20 degrees, they are also considered legally blind.
The term legal blindness refers to a medical condition severe enough to make an individual eligible for medical benefits and reasonable accommodations related to blindness.
What are Examples of Legal Blindness?
The following would likely be examples of legal blindness:
- Example 1: A man with a visual impairment wears eyeglasses, but they only improve his poor eyesight slightly. Even with eyeglasses, the man cannot drive and needs strong magnification to read standard-sized print. The man is substantially limited in his vision. This individual would likely be considered legally blind.
- Example 2: A woman has lost all of her eyesight in one eye due to an accident. She has learned some strategies to compensate, such as turning her head slightly to adjust for her lost visual field. However, she has lost her peripheral vision and is limited in seeing people or objects in her
What are the Pre-Employment Rights of the Blind and Visually Impaired?
During the hiring process, employers are restricted by law from asking vision-specific questions unless the answers to such questions directly apply to the ability of a candidate to perform a job function. Employers cannot ask questions specifically addressing eyesight during an application or an interview. Such questions may include whether medication for eyesight is taken, whether surgeries related to eyesight have been performed, or whether a candidate for a position has any conditions which may impair their vision now or in the future, such as diabetes.
Interviewers may ask specific questions related to job function, such as the ability to work night shifts, inspect small items, or read small labels used for packaging or shipping items.
Do I Have to Tell My Prospective Employer About My Visual Impairment?
Prospective employees are not required to volunteer information related to their vision to an employer. Employers may not ask for specifics, even if a candidate does volunteer information related to their vision. If a candidate reveals information related to their vision, the employer may ask whether the candidate needs reasonable accommodations to perform the job. Information that applicants or employees have volunteered relating to their visual impairments must be kept confidential.
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 consider the likelihood of risk, the severity of harm, and the imminence of harm.
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.
Employers are more likely to present a successful defense against a discrimination charge if they:
- Have assessed the risk of hiring or promoting a legally blind person
- Determined that the risk of harm is imminent
- Determined that the potential harm caused by the legally blind person is severe
- Determined that any accommodations to help the legally blind or visually impaired person would be unreasonable
Employers must also consider 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
What are the Post-Employment Rights of the Visually Impaired and Blind?
Visually impaired and blind employees are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employers may not discriminate, harass, withhold promotional opportunities, or subject employees to any adverse actions on the basis of their visual disabilities. Additionally, employers may not retaliate against employees that report harassment or employment discrimination.
After a person is hired, employers may not ask the employee specific questions about their visual impairment unless there is a good cause for doing so. Even if the employer has a good cause for doing so, such as concerns for safety, employers must not ask about the disability, but rather about job function.
Examples may include:
- Can the employee continue performing the specific job role safely?
- Does the employee require specific accommodations?
In some cases, an employer may be required to provide special accommodations, such as assistive technology or material printed in Braille.
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. An employment lawyer can advise you regarding your legal options and represent you during settlement talks and court proceedings.
The employment lawyers at LegalMatch believe that everyone is entitled to make a living, regardless of any conditions or disabilities that they may have. Vision is not something that everyone is blessed with. Some are born blind, while others may lose their sight through degenerative diseases or accidents.
Our database of employment and discrimination lawyers is broad and comprehensive. If you’re interested in hiring an excellent attorney in your area, use the link here. LegalMatch’s services can help you narrow down your search for a lawyer by choosing the issues involved in your case. There is no fee to present your case. The lawyers presented will be from your area, and our service is 100% confidential.