Suit Alleges Discrimination By Blind Agency

by Kevin Burton

   Some of the government and non-profit agencies which ostensibly serve the blind, really don’t.

   If I said these agencies had “blind spots” that would be a clever play on words. But many of them are willfully blind, no blind spot about it.

   What you often see is an agency doing just enough of the right things to appear blind-friendly to the public and media. If you look closely at what they are really up to, most of the moves are geared toward perpetuating extremely high salaries for sighted executives.

   There is a terrible art about how they do this.  But these people know what they are doing.

   The discrimination against the blind is almost always much more difficult to detect than in the case presented below. You rarely see anything as blatant as this case appears.

   This was reported by Ted Sherman of New Jersey Advance Media:

   Declan Ryan, who is legally blind, thought he had the job nailed.

   The 32-year-old man, who once had dreams of becoming a New York City firefighter before his vision problems worsened, had worked as a building management supervisor in Manhattan for the past 12 years before seeking a similar role earlier this year with the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

   Soon, he said, he was told the position was his.

   But his joy was short-lived. Days after getting an offer, Ryan claimed it was abruptly rescinded when the commission — whose mission is to enable the blind or visually impaired to “achieve full inclusion and integration in society through success in employment, independent living, and social self-sufficiency” — learned he was visually impaired.

   Now Ryan is in court, alleging that the commission, which sits within the Department of Human Services, was guilty of disability discrimination and retaliation.

   “It’s absurd,” said attorney Lisa Hernandez of Smith Eibeler in Holmdel, who said there was no question that despite his disability he could do the work. “If they’re able to discriminate not only on ability, but on visual ability in their own hiring practices, who can really have faith in them?”

   Hernandez said the commission had “made it very clear that it was his visual impairment” that led to its rescinding of the job offer.

   A spokesman for the state Department of Human Services, which was also named in the lawsuit, declined comment citing the pending litigation.

   Ryan said when the Commission for the Blind offered him the job, he was excited “as someone with a visual impairment to have the opportunity to work for an agency that aims to help those facing similar challenges.”

   Since the offer was rescinded, he wondered if there are any companies “that truly want to be inclusive and higher a diverse workforce.”

   According to his lawsuit, Ryan has Leber congenital amaurosis, a congenital eye disorder that primarily affects the retina, which detects light and color. Those with the condition typically have severe visual impairment beginning at birth which tends to worsen over time. 

   An avid runner who has competed in marathons and long-distance races with the assistance of a partner, he depends at work on software that enlarges the print on computer screens.

   He said after being offered the job with the state as a building management services specialist at a salary of $68,214, plus benefits, he was asked if he required any special accommodations. When he told a human resources representative about the software, he received another call from the state.

   “Do you understand what the job is? It is a lot of hands-on work,” he was told.

   Ryan said he understood what kind of work was required of him and that he was sure he could perform the job to commission’s expectations.

   He was then questioned whether he had disclosed his disability during the interview process, according to the lawsuit. Ryan said he had not, but again insisted his disability “would not prevent him from performing the duties of the position.”

   While he has some sight, he has no peripheral vision and is considered legally blind.

   According to the lawsuit, Ryan was told to fill out required paperwork and would soon be given a start date. But on July 1, he said the commission rescinded the job offer and he filed suit.

   Hernandez said the Commission for the Blind “made it very clear that it was his visual impairment and the accommodation he requested” that led to the rescinding of that job offer.

   The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, back pay and benefits and attorney fees.

   “We’d love to get him a job,” said Hernandez. “They offered the job to someone else.”

   Since the filing of the lawsuit, the state’s Office of Equal Employment Opportunity has opened an investigation, according to court filings, but held Ryan to a confidentiality stricture, warning him to not discuss the matter “with those outside the Office of EEO,” according to court papers.

   Ryan’s attorneys are now seeking a restraining order against the state from imposing any confidentiality directive  upon him or any witnesses in the EEO investigation. Noting that the state amended its regulations in 2020 to eliminate the strict confidentiality directive, they said the EEO could only “request” confidentiality, and not threaten employees with discipline should they ignore the request.

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I’d surely like to know the final outcome. I believe this sort of thing goes on far too often. Trouble is, we generally think there’s not much that can be done about it. That often seems to be the truth, but we can always hope for and push for change!

    Tracy Duffy



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