On July 26th, 2023, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released updated guidance on how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to employees and applicants with visual disabilities. The EEOC released the guidance on the 33rd Anniversary of the ADA. Concurrently, the Biden Administration released a presidential proclamation that signaled a renewed focus on the ADA and protecting disability rights in the workplace. Employer obligations under the ADA include responding to and fulfilling requests for reasonable accommodations. In May, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) shared a report that half of ADA reasonable accommodations involve no cost to the employer.

Visual Disabilities and the ADA

The EEOC’s technical assistance document, Visual Disabilities in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act offers agency guidance on applying ADA protections and employer obligations under the law to employees and applicants with visual disabilities. Specifically, the guidance addresses the following questions:

  • When may an employer ask an employee or applicant about a visual disability?
  • How should an employer treat voluntary disclosures?
  • What types of reasonable accommodations do employees or applicants with visual impairments need?
  • How should an employer handle safety concerns regarding visual disabilities?
  • How can an employer prevent harassment and stereotyping because of an individual’s vision impairment?

The updated guidance highlights new technologies available for reasonable accommodations. Notably, many of these technologies are free or low-cost. In addition, the guidance reiterates the disparate impact artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithmic tools in employment decisions have on people with visual disabilities.

Reasonable Accommodations for People With Visual Disabilities

A “reasonable accommodation,” as defined by the ADA and applicable state or local laws, is a modification to a process, job role, or work environment to help an individual with a physical or mental impairment perform the essential functions of a job. Reasonable accommodations for individuals with visual disabilities may include:

  • assistive technology (text-to-speech software);
  • accessible materials (braille or large print materials);
  • modification of workplace and/or employer policies (allowing the use of guide dogs at work);
  • ambient adjustments (brighter office lights); and
  • sighted assistance or services (a qualified reader).

The abovementioned list is not exhaustive. The appropriate accommodation necessary for a specific employee with a visual impairment must be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Presidential Proclamation on the ADA

Also released on the 33rd anniversary of the ADA, the Biden Administration penned a presidential proclamation marking the anniversary and renewing policy focus on the ADA. In the proclamation, President Joseph R. Biden stated that the ADA “has had a profound impact,” but there is still “much more work to do.” To support this, the proclamation cited that disabled Americans are still three times less likely to have a job. Furthermore, when they do have a job, they often earn less for performing the same work. President Biden went on to state that his administration is helping employers and nonprofits tap into federal funds to hire more individuals with disabilities.