Partial blindness may not be an ADA disability

The ADA doesn’t cover all disabilities—only those that substantially impair a major life function. There are many conditions, though serious, that don’t qualify as ADA disabilities. One of those is partial blindness. As the following case shows, unless poor eyesight affects important aspects of daily life, it’s not a protected disability.

Recent case: UPS fired Jeffrey Mortle, who has been blind in one eye since birth, after he seriously injured himself with a box cutter while horsing around with a co-worker. Mortle then claimed UPS really fired him because of his disability, even though he had worked for the company for 16 years with no apparent problems.

But Mortle couldn’t point to anything he couldn’t do reasonably well with one good eye. Except for some problems with his peripheral vision, Mortle can do everything a fully sighted person can. For example, he can read, play sports, drive, use tools and perform household chores. Therefore, his partial blindness did not impair any major functions. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed his case. (Mortle v. United Parcel Service, No. 06-3364, 7th Cir., 2007)

Final note: Always consider more than a condition’s label when deciding whether someone is disabled and protected by the ADA. The key is whether the condition substantially impairs a major life function such as seeing, walking, breathing, taking care of oneself or working. Many people suffering from serious conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure or other common ailments aren’t covered by the law.