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The term “blindness” generally refers to a lack of usable vision. Individuals with total blindness are unable to see anything with either eye. Legal blindness is defined as 20/200 or less in the better eye with the best possible correction. Many individuals who are considered legally blind still have some degree of useable vision.
Blindness 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 Blindness
People with blindness 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 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?
- Has the employee been consulted regarding 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?
Reading Printed Materials: Printed materials may be inaccessible to individuals who are blind, which may necessitate modification such as alternative formats or text reading devices.
- Auditory versions of printed document
- Braille formatted document
- Reformatted document that displays as accessible Web page
- Optical character recognition (OCR), which scans printed text and provides a synthetic speech output or text-based computer file
- Note: Handwritten documents are generally inaccessible via OCR devices. At this time, the Seeing AI app by Microsoft is the only OCR scanning app with the capability to read handwritten text.
- Qualified reader, which may be used to read text aloud for a person with a vision impairment
- Note: There currently is not a standard for providing or hiring readers, and no certification requirements exist.
- Tactile graphic document
Accessing Computer Information: Individuals who are blind may need to access computer-based information in order to perform essential job duties. Screen reading software allows employees to hear an audio output or read the screen via connection with a Braille display.
- Screen reading software
- Computer Braille display
- Qualified reader
Writing Notes and Completing Forms: Individuals who are blind may struggle to take written notes or complete forms. When feasible, modifying the way notes are taken or providing a product or service may be helpful.
- Personal data assistants, notetakers, and laptops with speech output or Braille display
- Digital recorder
- Speech dictation software
- Note: If using a screen reader in addition to speech dictation software, compatibility issues may arise. This can be solved with the provision of speech dictation integration software such as J-Say or DictationBridge.
- Braille stylus/Braille slate
- Braille printer or embosser
Accessing a Telephone: Challenges that may arise with telephone use include accessing buttons and visual displays, as well as knowing whether a line is active. Smartphones that primarily operate via touchscreen may also pose difficulty.
- Telephone light sensor, which is held over a phone line to indicate if a line is lit steady or blinking
- Note: Line status is indicated by audible or vibrating signal
- Talking telephone console indicators and message displays
- Smartphone screen reading
- Note: Both Apple and Android devices feature built-in screen readers and magnification options
Working with Money: Accommodation may be needed to assist employees in identifying bills and coins when working with money.
- Talking money identifier, cash register, coin counter/sorter, calculator
- Training on how to fold money for identification purposes
Reading from Instrument or Control Board: Individuals may need to access a variety of equipment in the workplace. Following instructions or prompts that are displayed visually may require accommodation.
- Braille/tactile labels or indicators
- Qualified reader
- Instrument modification by manufacturer, rehabilitation engineer, or employer
Repairing, Constructing, Assembling Pieces/Parts: Identifying and differentiating pieces or parts, as well as assembling or repairing appropriately, can pose unique challenges. Color-coded assembly may also be inaccessible to individuals who are blind.
- Braille/tactile labels or indicators
- Talking multimeter, micrometer, caliper, stud finder, level, tape measure
- Tactile ratchet-action wrench
Mobility: Accommodations for workplace navigation, as well as necessary work travel, should be considered for individuals who are blind. Limitations may include difficulty reading signage or noticing obstacles that may be in one’s path.
- Service animal and/or mobility aid (e.g., cane, electronic aid)
- Mobility and orientation training
- Detectable warning surfaces
- Colored and/or textured edges on stairs
- Traveling/evacuation partner
- Tactile map of evacuation and common routes
- Talking landmark or global positioning system
Driving: Commuting to and from work, as well as work-related travel, may require accommodation for employees who have driving limitations due to vision impairment. Note that while employers are not obligated to provide transportation to and from work unless they do so for other employees as a benefit of employment, they must consider other accommodations related to the commute if needed due to a disability.
- Driver (e.g., hired driver, volunteer, coworker)
- Public transportation or carpool
- Modified or flexible work schedule to meet public transportation needs
Other Accommodation Considerations:
- Training materials or company correspondence in alternate format (e.g., large print, Braille, CD-ROM, audiotape)
- Time off for training on adaptive technology, mobility training, and/or service animal training
- Additional training beyond what is typically given to others
- Accessible versions of employee related Web sites or Intranet material
- Note: See JAN's Tips for Designing Accessible Web Pages
Situations and Solutions:
A social service worker at a state agency had no vision and requested reader services to help with accessing documents and information.
Reader services were provided during half of every workday.
An applicant was unable to complete a pre-employment typing test because the testing software did not work with his assistive technology.
The employer offered a reader, but the applicant was concerned that this would not reflect his true ability, since the reader could not match the speed and consistency of a screen reader. The applicant’s vocational rehabilitation was able to provide a proctored test of his typing ability using an accessible typing program.
A university professor who is blind had to attend a conference once a year.
He was provided with a sighted guide to assist him with travel and with navigating the hotel and conference center.
An educator at a health care facility had no vision and wanted to bring her service dog to work to assist with mobility.
The employer allowed the employee to bring the service dog to work.
An employee working at a resort gift shop who is legally blind had difficulty knowing when a new customer was in the store.
She also had trouble reading tags on merchandise. She did benefit from magnification. JAN suggested a wireless visitor alert system that would chime when customers walked through the door. To read tags on merchandise, JAN suggested a portable electronic magnifier that the employee could carry everywhere in the store.
Co-workers decide it would be funny to move furniture around so an employee who is blind will run into it.
The employee does run into the furniture and is injured. The co-workers are suspended while the employer investigates what happened and they are ultimately terminated.
An individual with no vision was placed in a switchboard operator position for a large service complex building.
The person needed to be aware of what telephone lines were on hold, in use, or ringing. She was provided with a light sensor to assist in determining the console buttons that were lit, blinking, and/or steady. The telephone console was also modified to provide the employee with ring differentiation for external versus internal calls.
A customer service representative for a financial institution lost his vision and could no longer read his computer screen.
The employer provided screen reading software for his computer so that all information present on the screen and all information inputted into the system would be read back to him.