EEOC Gives Employers Fresh Advice on Ensuring ADA Accessibility for Employees With Visual Disabilities

Author: Robert S. Teachout, XpertHR Legal Editor

August 1, 2023

Employers have new guidance from the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) about how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to job applicants and employees with visual disabilities.

The EEOC recently updated its Visual Disabilities in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act guidance to highlight new technologies for reasonable accommodation and to address issues related to the use of algorithmic or artificial intelligence (AI) decision-making tools.

The guidance provides a series of questions and answers that discuss:

  • When an employer may ask an applicant or employee questions about a vision impairment and how to treat voluntary disclosures of such information;
  • What types of reasonable accommodations applicants or employees with visual disabilities may need;
  • How an employer should handle safety concerns about applicants and employees with visual disabilities; and
  • Ways an employer can ensure that employees are not harassed because of a visual disability.

Employers are legally obligated to accommodate job applicants and employees with visual disabilities if a reasonable accommodation will allow them to perform the essential functions of a job. The technical assistance document uses the term "visual disability" to refer to any disabilities related to an individual's vision and the term "vision impairments" to refer to various vision-related conditions, including blindness and low vision, limited visual fields, photosensitivity, color vision deficiencies or night blindness. It also makes clear that not everyone who wears glasses is an individual with a disability under the ADA.

The guidance explains that employers have many options for accommodating applicants and employees with visual impairments and disabilities, including:

  • Assistive technology (such as text-to-speech software, magnification screens or tools and other tech with accessibility features);
  • Website modifications for accessibility;
  • Written material in accessible or alternate formats (such as large print, braille or recordings); and
  • Policy and work practice modifications (such as allowing for use of an assistance animal, making remote work available beyond regular policy or modifying schedules).

The EEOC technical guidance also includes information clarifying that employers are legally obligated to make reasonable accommodations in connection with an employer's use of software that uses algorithms or artificial intelligence (AI) as decision-making tools. The EEOC warns that such AI tools may "intentionally or unintentionally 'screen out' individuals with disabilities in the application process and when employees are on the job, even though such individuals are able to do jobs with or without reasonable accommodation."