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?
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.