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Accommodation and Compliance: Blindness

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About Blindness

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 definitive list of medical conditions that constitute disabilities. Instead, the ADA defines a person with a disability as someone who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more "major life activities," (2) has a record of such an impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such 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:

  1. What limitations is the employee experiencing?
  2. How do these limitations affect the employee and the employee’s job performance?
  3. What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
  4. What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
  5. 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?
  6. Do supervisory personnel and employees need training?

Key Accommodations:

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
  • Scribe

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
  • Reassignment
  • Telework

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


Accommodation Ideas:

Situations and Solutions:

The following situations and solutions are real-life examples of accommodations that were made by JAN customers. Because accommodations are made on a case-by-case basis, these examples may not be effective for every workplace but give you an idea about the types of accommodations that are possible.

Events Regarding Blindness