There have been many estimates as to the number of people within the United States who suffer from a vision impairment or blindness, the consensus falling just above 20 million. “Vision impairment,” as defined by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), exists when a person’s eyesight cannot be corrected to a “normal” level.” Vision impairment has varying degrees. A vision impairment can be the loss of visual acuity, the clarity of objects, or the loss of visual field, more commonly known as peripheral vision; the ability to see things without turning your eyes or head. Vision impairments and blindness can be the result of disease, such as diabetes, trauma, like an accident, congenital, or existing since birth, degenerative, increasingly deteriorate over time, such as macular degeneration. Vision impairment and blindness that substantially limits a person’s life activities is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and those living with visual impairment or blindness are entitled to the protection of the law against discrimination.
Unfortunately, employment discrimination towards the visually impaired and blind begins before even getting a job. Often, employers exclude individuals with vision impairment or blindness based on over generalizations and false assumptions, such as costly accommodations or liability concerns. This is sometimes done by an employer committing employment law violations at the interview itself. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the legislation protecting those with qualified disabilities, prohibits discriminatory behavior during the hiring process. Specifically, employers cannot require medical examination prior to employment. Similarly, employers are prohibited from asking about medical procedures an applicant may have undergone, use of medication, or, specific to visually impaired and blind individuals, conditions that may have caused the vision impairment. Conversely, employers are permitted to ask if an applicant will need accommodations to complete the application, and can conduct non-medical tests to measure the applicant’s ability to perform job related functions. Once an employer has made a job offer, they can require medical examination provided all applicants are treated the same. However, it is important to know that an employer can only withdraw a job offer if post-offer examination show that employee is unable to perform the essential functions of the position.
As vision impairment can occur at any time in a person’s life, individuals may also suffer discrimination in the workplace at a job they have had for many years. An example of this is adverse material changes in working conditions that force an employee to quit. This can include a change in responsibilities, how work is distributed or the inability to advance.
As discussed above, persons that suffer from [certain types of] vision impairment or blindness are considered disabled and are therefore protected by the ADA. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to individuals with an ADA designated disability. Persons on Long Island, in either Nassau of Suffolk counties, who suffer from visual impairment or blindness who request reasonable accommodations that are not provided, or who experience any other type of disability discrimination in the workplace, should contact a New York disability employment attorney.