Title: New EEOC Guidance: Visual Disabilities and ADA in the Workplace
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently released a technical assistance document titled Visual Disabilities in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act. This new guidance, published on July 26, 2023, aims to clarify the application of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to job applicants and employees with visual disabilities. In this article, we will explore the key takeaways from the guidance, highlighting the importance of proper questioning, safety concerns, and reasonable accommodations in the workplace.
(Section 1: Proper Questioning Surrounding Employers with Vision Impairments)
The EEOC’s guidance puts emphasis on the fact that not everyone who wears glasses is an individual with a disability under the ADA. Instead, the guidance instructs employers to assess an employee’s vision impairment with regard to how it is corrected by ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses. If using these corrective measures does not result in a substantial limitation to a major life activity, then the individual’s vision impairment does not meet the ADA’s definitions of actual or record of a disability. Employers are generally not allowed to ask applicants about vision impairments, but there are exceptions when obvious impairments are present or voluntarily disclosed, and accommodations might be necessary.
(Section 2: Safety Concerns)
Similar to other disabilities, employers must conduct an individualized assessment if they have safety concerns related to an applicant or employee’s vision impairment. This assessment should determine whether the person can safely perform the essential functions of the job. It is crucial for employers to base their decision on reasonable medical judgment supported by current medical knowledge or other objective evidence. Stereotyping or speculation should not influence these determinations. Employers should also consider reasonable accommodations that could minimize or eliminate safety hazards.
(Section 3: Reasonable Accommodations)
The guidance emphasizes that individuals with visual impairments may require various modifications or accommodations in the workplace. These can include assistive technology such as text-to-speech software, accessible materials like braille or large print, adjustments to workplace policies or procedures (e.g., allowing guide dogs), alternative testing methods, appropriate lighting adjustments, and sighted assistance or services. This list is not exhaustive, and applicants and employees may require additional or different accommodations. Employers are encouraged to explore possible solutions to ensure inclusivity for individuals with visual disabilities.
(Section 4: Considerations for AI and Algorithms)
The EEOC’s guidance acknowledges the potential risks associated with algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) decision-making tools in the workplace. It warns employers that these tools may inadvertently or intentionally discriminate against applicants and employees with visual disabilities. Employers have an obligation to provide reasonable accommodations, such as alternative testing formats, if algorithms or AI assessments are likely to screen out individuals with disabilities. The guidance also suggests that employers proactively inform applicants and employees about how algorithms or AI tools evaluate them, enabling individuals with visual disabilities to request necessary accommodations.
The release of the EEOC’s guidance on visual disabilities and the ADA in the workplace provides valuable insights for employers and employees alike. By following proper questioning practices, addressing safety concerns with individualized assessments, and offering reasonable accommodations, employers can promote an inclusive and accessible work environment. Proactive measures to consider the impact of algorithms and AI tools also demonstrate a commitment to eliminating potential barriers for individuals with visual disabilities. As workplaces strive for diversity and equal opportunities, adherence to the ADA guidelines becomes increasingly important.