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Protecting Employees with Visual Disabilities

  • Published
  • 31 July 2023
  • Category
  • General

Millions of Americans are blind or have vision loss that cannot be completely corrected by wearing glasses or contact lenses, taking medication or having surgery. The number of people with visual disabilities is expected to significantly increase as the population ages and rising diabetes case rates continue to be a serious public health concern.

Leading causes of visual impairments include diabetic retinopathy, which is caused when high blood sugar damages the retina, cataracts, macular degeneration and glaucoma, a diverse group of eye diseases that affect the optic nerve. Other common eye conditions include amblyopia (the brain favoring one eye over the other), strabismus (eye misalignment), monocular vision (one “good” eye) and injuries, most of them preventable.

People with visual disabilities have certain rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). On July 26, the ADA’s 33rd anniversary, the EEOC published a document to answer questions about how these rights apply to job applicants and employees with vision impairments.

Visual Disability Rights

According to the EEOC, many people with visual impairments can work safely, either with or without reasonable accommodations that do not cause an undue hardship to an employer. For example, an undue hardship would be a measure that is determined to be too costly or disruptive to implement.

The EEOC document explains:

  • When an employer may ask an applicant or employee questions about a vision impairment and how an employer should treat voluntary disclosures.
  • Types of reasonable accommodations applicants or employees with visual disabilities may need.
  • How an employer should handle safety concerns about applicants and employees with visual disabilities.
  • Ways an employer can ensure that no employee is discriminated against because of a visual disability.

Here are a few key points:

Glasses: Individuals who wear “ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses” to fully correct their vision are usually not considered to have a visual disability. To determine impairment, vision should be assessed without considering the positive effects of mitigating measures such as using low-vision devices to enhance or magnify an image.

Hiring: An applicant is not required to disclose any type of visual impairment except when requesting a reasonable accommodation. An employer may not ask about eye health or a vision impairment, or require an examination before making a conditional job offer. It is permissible to ask whether an applicant can perform essential functions such as reading small print or operating equipment.

Post-offer: When an applicant discloses a vision impairment after receiving a conditional job offer, the employer may inquire about how long the applicant has had the impairment, the nature and extent of visual limitations, and reasonable accommodations that may be needed.

Reasonable accommodations: Examples of reasonable accommodations cited by the EEOC include assistive technology; braille or large-print materials; modification of workplace/employer policies or procedures, such as guide dogs; alterative forms of training and testing; bright lighting; and sighted assistance.

Safety: An employer may exclude an individual with a vision impairment from a job for safety reasons only when there is a significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of the individual or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced through reasonable accommodations.

Protective Prescription Eyewear

There were 18,510 eye-related injury or illness cases that resulted in at least one day away from work in 2020, with an incidence rate of 1.7 cases per 10,000 full-time workers, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data released in March 2023. In addition to the human toll, OSHA reports that eye injuries cost an estimated $300 million a year in lost productivity and medical care.

Many employees who wear corrective lenses but do not qualify as visually disabled are covered by OSHA regulations. WorkCare partners with SafeVision to provide prescription safety eyewear programs in workplaces with eye injury exposure risks.

Most eye injuries occur when safety glasses or goggles are not consistently worn or are not properly fitted. People who wear glasses to correct their vision need prescription safety eyewear to protect their eyes and have clear vision on the job. The style and type of protection worn must be selected and fitted based on specific workplace hazard exposure risks.

SafeVision, a division of Hoya Vision, makes referrals to local eye care professionals for exams and prescriptions at over 3,500 locations nationwide. To learn more, contact WorkCare’s business development team:; 800-455-6155.