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for the Blind

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Legal Considerations for Employee Accommodations

Various laws and policies have been enacted to help individuals with disabilities obtain meaningful employment. These include landmark civil rights measures such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as employment programs such as the Rehabilitation Act, the Workforce Investment Act, the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act, and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). The ADA and the WIOA are of particular significance to people with disabilities.

The ADA prohibits discrimination in employment and requires the provision of reasonable accommodations for qualified employees. This is a key element for the employment of people who are blind or visually impaired, who often use assistive technology to perform the essential functions of a job.

The WIOA revised the Rehabilitation Act, which established vocational rehabilitation services and related support activities for individuals with the most significant disabilities, including those who are blind or visually impaired. It also established the basis for specialized services for individuals who are blind or have low vision. Specialized services include orientation and mobility, training in the use of assistive technology, and training in appropriate reading media such as braille. These are important job-readiness skills.

Additional resources on related legislation include:

Knowing Your Responsibilities

Requesting Accommodations: The applicant or employee is responsible for introducing the need for reasonable accommodations. Nevertheless, to serve the business best, an employer needs to ensure that all workers are performing at their full potential, which means with accommodations where needed. An employer may not generally inquire about a disability; however, the employer may ask the applicant or employee to describe or demonstrate how he or she will perform essential duties of the job with or without accommodations.

Providing Accommodations: Once it is determined that the employee or applicant is qualified, then reasonable accommodations must be made (as described in the ADA). Accommodations also make sense from a business perspective in order to use talent best and keep productivity high. The employer is responsible for financing and implementing reasonable accommodations.

What an Employer Needs to Know

How will the employee make the need for an accommodation known?

  • What steps will be taken to meet the employee’s need?
  • What is the employer's responsibility for meeting an applicants' need for an accommodation?
  • Who will define, update, and document the essential job functions?
  • Who will announce policy or work changes that affect the workgroup?
  • What efforts are needed to retain employees with sudden or progressive vision loss?
  • Who is responsible for continual review and evaluation of accommodation effectiveness?
  • How will you determine, validate, and document evaluation of undue hardship?

A Brief Overview of the ADA

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for a qualified employee's physical or mental disability. Accommodations can range from revising standard employment practices to adjusting job tasks or modifying the work environment to enable a qualified person with a disability to be employed. Accommodations start with the job application process and progress through job training, task assignments, job shifts, and considerations in promotions and/or layoffs. Once accommodations are made, they may need to be adjusted because of change in the job, equipment, process, or other factors that affect how the person accomplishes the job's essential and non-essential tasks and functions.

The ADA protects employers from accommodations that will impose an undue hardship on the company, defined as an action or accommodation that is excessively costly, extensive, substantial or disruptive, or would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business. According to the ADA, if the cost of an accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer, and no outside funding is available, the individual with a disability must be given the option of paying for the portion of the cost that causes the undue hardship or providing the accommodation. The employer and the employee should discuss what the employee's needs are and together determine an effective, reasonable accommodation through an informal interactive process.

What the ADA Requires of Employers

Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for a person with a physical or mental disability who is otherwise qualified to perform the job. Accommodations allow individuals to enjoy the same work experience, benefits, and privileges as other employees. They may include:

  • Making existing facilities accessible
  • Job restructuring
  • Part-time or modified work schedules
  • Acquiring or modifying equipment
  • Modifying tests, training materials, or policies
  • Providing qualified readers or interpreters
  • Revising employment practices

What the ADA Does Not Require of Employers

  • Hiring an unqualified person just because the applicant is disabled
  • Lowering performance or conduct standards
  • Creating a new job or waiving essential job functions
  • Making reasonable accommodations if the employee has not asked for it and if the employer is not aware of the need
  • Making unreasonable accommodations that will impose an undue hardship on the company

Additional resources on the ADA and related disability legislation and requirements include:

Reasonable Accommodations

The following steps describe how an employer can determine reasonable accommodations.

Step 1: Current employee has lost or is losing functional vision.

Step 2: Did the employee disclose a visual impairment? Depending on the answer to this question, there are two paths: one, if the employee does disclose a disability, and a second, if the employee does not disclose.

Step 3- Non-Disclosure Path: If the employee does not disclose, and the employer is aware of changes in performance, behavior, persona, or has other reasons to suspect a potential problem, then the employee's performance and/or the risk/danger to self or others must be evaluated. If no problem is identified, then no action is required. If a problem is identified, then the employer will share observations and perceptions with the employee. Ask if and how the employer can help and weigh any action carefully. Exercise sensitivity. Respect the employee's right to privacy.

Step 3- Disclosure Path: If the employee does disclose a disability and expresses a need or desire for accommodations, then the employer should discuss with the employee specific job requirements and clarify duties that can/cannot be performed.

Step 4- Non-Disclosure Path: If the employee does not disclose a disability after the employer has shared concerns, then the employer will follow established internal conduct and performance policy. If the employee does disclose a disability after an employer has shared concerns, then proceed as if the employee had disclosed a disability initially.

Step 4- Disclosure Path: Identify and explore accommodation alternatives with the employee. Examples of accommodations include modifying or adjusting duties, schedule, worksite, and/or policy; adjusting or eliminating marginal duties; splitting or sharing job functions and tasks; acquiring new equipment or software; or requesting other help or services.

Step 5- Disclosure Path: Consult with others to develop course of action. Validate effectiveness. Seek input from the company's human resources and information technology departments, local vocational rehabilitation agencies, the Job Accommodation Network, and assistive technology specialists. Explore tax credits and other incentives.

Step 6- Disclosure Path: Employer determines whether planned accommodations impose undue hardship. If there is no undue hardship, then the employer will implement, monitor, and modify accommodations. If there is undue hardship, then the employer must validate and document reasons for the undue hardship decision. The options at that point include: seeking assistance from vocational rehabilitation services, the employee provides all or part of the accommodations, retraining the employee for a new job, reassigning employee to a similar job, or granting the employee a leave of absence separation—voluntary or involuntary.

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