Is color blindness considered a disability for ADA and employment purposes? 7 Answers as of June 26, 2013

I was slated for a promotion and was given a test part of which was to determine my ability to discern colors. Since I did not pass, I was denied the promotion soley on that issue. Would color blindness be considered a compensatable disability?

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James M. Osak, P.C.
James M. Osak, P.C. | James M. Osak
No. it is not considered a disability.
Answer Applies to: Michigan
Replied: 8/20/2012
KEYL ADR Services, LLC | Mark D. Keyl
The ADA requires that a disability must effect a major life activity. Walking is such an activity, while reading is not. Color blindness does not effect a major life activity in my opinion, however, you may want to request an accommodation under the ADA and see how your employer responds.
Answer Applies to: Mississippi
Replied: 8/20/2012
Law Offices of Charles R. Perry
Law Offices of Charles R. Perry | Charles R. Perry
This is a very interesting question.

The definition of a "disability" includes any condition that "limits a major life activity." If the employee has a "disability," then the employer must make "reasonable accommodations."

Also, an employer cannot test you for the presence of a "genetic characteristic." I don't know enough about color-blindness to say if it qualifies as a disability, but my instinct says that it's theoretically possible.

On the other hand, the one published California case in the area found that color-blindness was not a disability in that particular case.

Another question is whether there is a way to accommodate your color-blindness, given the duties of the job to which you were denied a promotion.

As you can see, the issue is fact-intensive. A consultation with a labor lawyer that includes a discussion of the problems your color-blindness causes you will be necessary to determine if you have a claim. Best of luck.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 8/20/2012
Lisa B. Golan, Attorney at Law | Lisa B. Golan
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), discrimination is defined to include,

1) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits you in performing major life activities as compared to the average person in the general population;

2) a record of such an impairment, or

3) being "regarded as disabled" = having a physical or mental impairment that is not both transitory (lasting 6 months or less) and minor.

Color-blindness arguably meets part 3) of this definition and may also be a disability under parts 1) and 2). You can look at the ADA regulations that define these terms at www.eeoc.gov.

However, in order to assert a claim that you were discriminated against in violation of the ADA - you must show that you were qualified to perform the essential job functions of the position.

If the ability to discern colors is an essential job function of the position to which you sought a promotion, you would not be qualified for the job, and would not have a claim for discrimination under the ADA.

Depending upon the actual functions of your position, the ability to discern colors, may or may not be essential. If you fit within sub-parts 1) or 2) above, you would be entitled to a reasonable accommodation that would allow you to perform the essential job functions. (This is not true for individuals who only meet the "regarded as" definition of disability.)

So, for example, if you could make the determinations required by your job using the reasonable accommodation of assistive technology, you might be entitled to get the promotion (or at least not to be screened out by your color-blindness.)

A few other thoughts: Normally it is impermissible for an employer to require an applicant to submit to a medical exam before he is offered a position whether or not he has a disability.

I haven't looked at whether a test for color blindness is a medical exam - but one could argue that it is. Post-offer medical exams are allowed so long as they are required of all applicants for that type of position.

If an applicant is screened out by a post-offer color-blindness exam, he may have a claim if his employer cannot show that the ability to discern colors is job-related and consistent with business necessity.

Without reviewing all of the facts of your situation, I cannot give you any advice as to whether or not you have a claim for disability discrimination. If you want to learn more about your rights, I would recommend that you contact an attorney who is familiar with the ADA.
Answer Applies to: Georgia
Replied: 8/20/2012
Jane Phillipson Wilson, Attorney at Law
Jane Phillipson Wilson, Attorney at Law | Jane Phillipson Wilson
Was it essential for you to perform your job?
Answer Applies to: Michigan
Replied: 6/26/2013
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