How to accommodate people with albinism in the workplace

SEPTEMBER is national Albinism Awareness month and disability equity solutions company, Progression has called on South Africa’s private and public sectors to embrace people with albinism and find ways to accommodate them in the workplace.

Picture: Patricia Willocq/Art in All of Us/Corbis

Disability expert at Progression, Justene Smith, said not only do people with albinism face significant societal challenges, but they struggle to be accepted in the workplace too.

“Workplace accommodations that can be put in place for people with albinism are not major, but they are necessary,” she said.

According to the Employment Equity Act reasonable accommodation can be defined as “any modification or adjustment to a job or to the working environment that will enable a person from a designated group to have access to, or participate or advance in employment”.

Smith says not all people with albinism need to be accommodated to successfully perform their jobs, but some people do need a few accommodations. “All too often people with albinism are not provided with reasonable accommodation for their visual impairment.

“Because pigmentation in the eye is essential for normal vision, albinism can lead to a variety of visual impairments such as repetitive, uncontrolled eye movements (nystagmus), eyes that do not look in the same direction (strabismus), increased sensitivity to light (photophobia) and extreme near- or far-sightedness,” she says.

Smith provides a few measures that organisations need to put into place when employing people with albinism:

  • Employers can provide hand-held magnifiers for people with visual impairments. This can assist a person when reading smaller print or hard copy text.
  • Employers need to consider the positioning of the person’s desk and the lighting in their working environment.  For example, a desk should not be directly in front of a window where the glare is high and spot lights should be avoided. Fluorescent lights should be fitted with anti-glare filters or tube covers.
  • People with visual impairments should also take regular breaks from visually demanding work to avoid eye strain. Consideration should also be given to the length of time given for computer work.
  • There are many tools available to make computer work easier.  All operating systems from Windows 7 and newer have a pre-installed magnifier tool, which assists people with visual impairments when reading. Alternatively, there are other options such as JAWS or providing larger monitors.
  • People with albinism have highly sensitive skin thus should not be exposed to direct sunlight. They should be given offices that do not get too much sunlight or windows need to be covered with blinds to reduce sunlight.
  • Cleaners need to consult employees with albinism before using any new cleaning products in the office as certain brands may react negatively with their skin.

Smith said to achieve an inclusive society, South Africans can start by making simple accommodations for people with disabilities such as albinism. “Until we make a concerted effort to stop discrimination of people with albinism, the horrible violence and ridicule many of these people experience will not cease.”


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