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Albinism refers to a group of rare disorders that are inherited genetically and result in a lack or complete loss of pigment in the skin, hair, and irises of the eyes. The lack of pigment, specifically melanin, causes the skin to be lighter in color and more vulnerable to ultraviolet (UV) rays. Albinism can also cause a variety of visual impairments including involuntary back-and-forth movements of the eyes (nystagmus), inability to focus both eyes on a single point (strabismus), extreme near/farsightedness, and sensitivity to light, or photophobia. The severity of symptoms resulting from albinism varies and not all individuals with albinism will need accommodations.
Albinism and the Americans with Disabilities Act
The ADA does not contain a list of medical conditions that constitute disabilities. Instead, the ADA has a general definition of disability that each person must meet. A person has a disability if he/she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having an impairment. For more information about how to determine whether a person has a disability under the ADA, see How to Determine Whether a Person Has a Disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA).
Accommodating Employees with Albinism
People with albinism may develop some of the limitations discussed below, but seldom develop all of them. Also, the degree of limitation will vary among individuals. Be aware that not all people with albinism will need accommodations to perform their jobs and many others may only need a few accommodations. The following is only a sample of the possibilities available. Numerous other accommodation solutions may exist.
Questions to Consider:
- What limitations is the employee experiencing?
- How do these limitations affect the employee and the employee’s job performance?
- What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
- What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
- Once accommodations are in place, would it be useful to meet with the employee to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed?
- Do supervisory personnel and employees need training?
Situations and Solutions:
An employee with albinism working in a grounds keeping position requested periodic rest breaks to allow for applying sunscreen to protect from sunburns.
Due to the physical exertion required for the job, the employee’s sweating makes the sunscreen ineffective prior to regularly scheduled break times. The employer provided flexibility in the employee’s schedule to allow for these unpaid breaks while also extending the employee’s end time so that the amount of productive work time remains consistent.
An applicant for a server position at a restaurant disclosed that he has albinism.
He requested to be permitted to deviate from the dress code to wear long sleeve shirts at work due to the ease of which the applicant gets sunburns. The employer agreed that the long sleeves would be acceptable so long as they followed similar color schemes as the normal dress code.
An employee who has albinism requested accommodations because of difficulty in reading text on a computer screen.
The employer installed screen magnification software on the employee’s workstation computer to increase the size of the on screen font.
An employee working as a law office clerk was having trouble reading the text on the memos she has being given by the lawyers in her office.
She disclosed that she had low vision due to albinism and requested that the memos be provided in large print. The employer made a policy that memos must be written in a minimum of 18 point font and also provided a stand up magnifier to assist in reading hand-written items.
An employee who works converting paper documents into a digital database was having trouble reading the paper documents.
A co-worker mentioned this to his supervisor and his supervisor discussed how an accommodation may be able to assist him. The employee stated that because of his albinism he cannot read the smaller print. The employer provided a portable reader and a headset which would take a picture of the document and then read the text from that picture aloud through the headset.