Accommodating Visually Challenged Workers | DCR Workforce Blog

Accommodating Visually Challenged Workers

visually challengedI was talking to close friend, who is a senior IT professional, and mentioned the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) in passing. He replied with – ‘Who or what is the EEOC?’ This friend moved to the USA permanently in 1989 and is a citizen. So, this response was a really big surprise! I will admit that he is in IT – not Human Resources – but I mistakenly assumed that everyone is aware of their rights under the EEOC. While individual workers may be uninformed, employers in America do not enjoy the luxury of such ignorance of the various regulatory bodies which oversee labor policies.

Witness how the Bank of America was made to pay $110,000 to a former temporary worker, based on a disability discrimination charge brought by the EEOC in 2011, for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Bank of America failed to accommodate a visually impaired data entry worker on a temporary assignment and actually terminated him after one day on the job. The decree provides the monetary relief of 110,000 to the worker and also required the Bank to establish processes in its various branches to provide reasonable accommodations to temporary and contingent workers. The Bank was also instructed to train its managers on the ADA’s requirements and to follow all recordkeeping and reporting requirements for the duration of the decree.

Working with the Visually Impaired:

Many jobs are closed to workers with visual impairments, and not even half of the 10 million visually impaired working age persons in the country are employed. Errors of refraction, diseases of the eye, and other vision-related conditions are usually the cause of vision loss. Vision impairments could indicate some usable vision, low vision or total blindness. The ADA adopts a general definition of disability that each person must meet, which focuses on the person’s ability to perform the essential functions of the job, in spite of their disability.

Possible Solutions and Accommodations:

  • A person with low vision can find it easier to wield a tool when the tool or the workplace is fitted with additional lighting.
  • The person’s eyes may be protected from additional glare from the computer monitor, and bigger keyboard labels for better clarity.
  • A portable magnifier to magnify reading materials could relieve the stress on someone with vision problems.
  • A person with no vision can act as a switchboard operator, by setting different ring tones on internal and external calls; while a light sensor could help in knowing which ones are lit (on hold), blinking (in use) or steady (ringing).
  • Screen reading software can come in useful for vision impaired persons to meet the requirements on their job.
  • A closed circuit television system (CCTV) can help them to read printed materials.
  • An external screen on a computer screen could magnify the content.
  • Use of digital recorders and optical scanners can help with creating electronic documents from printed ones with the necessary training to use such equipment.
  • Braille script embossers, displays and written materials on a computer disk, in Braille format, can also be made available. Guide dogs should be allowed into the workplace, when required.
  • Necessary modifications may be made to the recruitment process and employment tests to enable visually challenged persons to meet the recruitment standards.
  • A scribe or reader may be hired to help the person with writing and reading tasks.
  • Transportation requirements may require a driver or the cost of transport.
  • Permission to work from home, where possible, should also be considered.

Employers cannot summarily dismiss the idea of employing a person with a vision impairment without exploring possible accommodations.

Who will Pay for such Accommodations?

This is a legitimate question which needs an answer. Some employers may hire visually impaired workers, as a diversity initiative. Many other may baulk at the additional effort and probable costs of providing such accommodations.

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) provides free consultation and technical assistance to employers who provide worksite accommodations to the disabled. According to JAN, accommodating the disabled will not prove that hard because:

  1. Research has shown that more than half of such accommodations cost nothing.
  2. Employers can get tax incentives for providing such accommodations. Some organizations also provide the required funding for such initiatives.
  3. Financial benefits come from reduced costs in training and insurance, and from increased worker productivity, while having a committed and loyal employee.

Some organizations work with employers who are willing to hire the disabled. Chicago Lighthouse provides free assistance to the visually impaired and Rehabilitation Engineering & Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) helps to improve the potential of people with disabilities to achieve their goals through the use of technology. They promote research, development, education, advocacy and provision of technology; and support employers who are willing to accommodate the disabled.

ADA also proposes that in cases where no support or external funding is available, the disabled employee may be given the option to pay for the cost of accommodation. Many open-minded employers have found that all they needed to do was increase the font size, or communicate only through email.

The Bank of America case cited above raises another interesting issue. When the worker is temporary, and is provided by a third-party staffing agency who serves as the Employer of Record, who is responsible for any specialized conditions or services that are deemed as “reasonable accommodation”? When engaging contingent workers, buyers should contractually agree on these issues with the staffing suppliers.

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.