American Association of Blind Teachers

Telephone: (865) 692-4888

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While acknowledging that legal action is always a possibility in the case of perceived discrimination, AABT is strongly committed to resolving disputes, if at all possible, through negotiation. We feel that, in the long run, this is almost always preferable for both employer and employee.

Q. Is employment in public school teaching covered by The Americans With Disabilities Act?

A. Yes. The Americans With Disabilities Act makes it unlawful to discriminate in employment against a qualified individual with a disability. The ADA also outlaws discrimination against individuals with disabilities in State and local government services, public accommodations, transportation and telecommunications.

Q. As an employer, what qualifies as “job discrimination”?

A. If an applicant has a disability, he or she must also be qualified to perform the “essential functions” or duties of a job, with or without reasonable accommodation, This means two things. First, the applicant must satisfy the employer's requirements for the job, such as education, employment experience, skills or licenses. Second, he or she must be able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation.

Q. What types of things are considered “essential functions”?

A. Essential functions are the fundamental job duties (i.e., subject knowledge, class preparation, grading) that a teacher must be able to perform on his or her own or with the help of a “reasonable accommodation.” An employer cannot refuse employment because a disability prevents someone from performing duties that are not essential to the job.

Q. What is “reasonable accommodation”?

A. Reasonable accommodation is any change or adjustment to a job or work environment that permits a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the job application process, to perform the essential functions of a job, or to enjoy benefits and privileges of employment equal to those enjoyed by employees without disabilities. For example, reasonable accommodation may include: providing or modifying equipment or devices, job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position, adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials, or policies, providing readers, and making the workplace readily accessible and usable by people with disabilities.

Q. Does an employer have to provide any accommodation an applicant or employee requests?

A. No. An employer is required to provide a reasonable accommodation to a qualified applicant or employee with a disability unless the employer can show that the accommodation would be “an undue hardship” -- that is, that it would require significant difficulty or expense.

Q. What recourse is there if an accommodation, such as an adaptive technology or paid readers, is too expensive for an employer?

A. If the cost of providing the needed accommodation would be an undue hardship, the employee must be given the choice of providing the accommodation or paying for the portion of the accommodation that causes the undue hardship.

Q. What types of questions are legal and illegal for an employer to ask when interviewing a candidate?

A. If a candidate is applying for a job, an employer cannot ask if he or she is disabled or ask about the nature or severity of any disability. An employer can, however, ask if a candidate can perform the duties of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. An employer can also ask a candidate to describe or to demonstrate how, with or without reasonable accommodation, he or she will perform the duties of the job.

Q. Can an employer ask an employee questions about his or her disability?

A. Once someone has been hired and started work, the employer cannot require that the employee take a medical examination or ask questions about a disability unless they are clearly related to the job and necessary for the conduct of the employer's business.

Q. How does an employer know if a reasonable accommodation is required?

A. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation only for the physical or mental limitations of a qualified individual with a disability of which they are aware. Generally, it is the responsibility of the employee to inform the employer that an accommodation is needed.

Q. Does the ADA apply if the employer believes hiring a person with a disability would pose a health risk?

A. Perhaps. The ADA permits an employer to refuse to hire an individual if he or she poses a direct threat to the health or safety of themselves or others. A direct threat means a significant risk of substantial harm. The determination that there is a direct threat must be based on objective, factual evidence regarding an individual's present ability to perform essential functions of a job. An employer cannot refuse to hire someone because of a slightly increased risk or because of fears that there might be a significant risk sometime in the future. The employer must also consider whether a risk can be eliminated or reduced to an acceptable level with a reasonable accommodation. Health is rarely an issue in employment of teachers.

Q. Who enforces the ADA?

A. Antidiscrimination laws are enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and State and local civil rights enforcement agencies that work with the Commission.

Q. What should I do if I think I have been discriminated against?

A. If you think you have been discriminated against in employment on the basis of disability . . . , you should contact the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. A charge of discrimination generally must be filed within 180 days of the alleged discrimination. You may have up to 300 days to file a charge if there is a State or local law that provides relief for discrimination on the basis of disability. However, to protect your rights, it is best to contact EEOC promptly if discrimination is suspected.

Q. What can the EEOC do to remedy any discrimination that may have occurred?

A. If someone has been discriminated against, he or she is entitled to a remedy that will place them in the position they would have been in if the discrimination had never occurred. He or she may be entitled to hiring, promotion, reinstatement, back pay, or reasonable accommodation, including reassignment. They may also be entitled to attorney’s fees.

Q. How do I get in touch with the EEOC?

A. To contact the EEOC, look in your telephone directory under "U.S. Government." For information and instructions on reaching your local office, call: (800) 669-4000 (. For more specific information about ADA requirements affecting employment contact: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, P.O. Box 7033, Lawrence, Kansas 66044.

Q. Is there any other way of resolving complaints without lodging formal charges?

A. The Commission also recognizes that differences and disputes about ADA requirements may arise between employers and people with disabilities as a result of misunderstandings. Such disputes frequently can be resolved more effectively through informal negotiation or mediation procedures, rather than through the formal enforcement process of the ADA. Accordingly, EEOC will encourage efforts of employers and individuals with disabilities to settle such differences through alternative methods of dispute resolution, providing that such efforts do not deprive any individual of legal rights provided by the statute.

Q. How often do people who are visually impaired appeal to the EEOC?

A. Since 1992, when Title I of the ADA first became effective, the EEOC has received more than 175,000 charges alleging discrimination on the basis of disability. Of these, only three percent have been filed by individuals with visual impairments.

The above information was excerpted from the Department of Justice.

You may also want to visit our page on
Legal Rights and Responsibilities
for readable descriptions of the laws and regulations that relate most directly to the education of blind and visually impaired students.

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