Can Employers Require Masks at Work, and Other News From June

By Workplace Initiative Team

Welcome to the Workplace Initiative Monthly Roundup.

Each month, we’ll be bringing you news about trends, innovations, and accomplishments from the field of disability inclusion. Here’s a summary of what made the news in June 2020. 

1. Can employers require employees to wear masks?

As many workplaces reopen, some employers are wondering whether they can require employees to wear masks.

According to HRDive, the answer is “absolutely”—as long as they’re prepared to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. 

[Michael D. Wong, a partner at SmithAmundsen] recommends HR pros thank the employee for calling attention to the need and then ask for medical documentation. “Especially on such a hot topic like this, I think it’s important to take that step,” he said—both as protection for the employer and so HR clearly understands the restriction. Specifically, Wong said, ask the employee to have a health care provider review the relevant job description and identify restrictions and capabilities regarding face coverings and social distancing. 

Read more at HRDive.

2. Advocates raise awareness about police violence against Black Americans with disabilities

Police violence against people with disabilities is increasing in the United States—and it often goes overlooked, reports Time.

There is no reliable national database tracking how many people with disabilities, or who are experiencing episodes of mental illness, are shot by police each year, but studies show that the numbers are substantial—likely between one-third and one-half of total police killings.

And race plays a huge factor: 

The combination of disability and skin color amounts to a double bind, says Talila A. Lewis, a community lawyer and volunteer director of Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of Deaf Communities (HEARD). The U.S. government, Lewis explains, uses “constructed ideas about disability, delinquency, and dependency, intertwined with constructed ideas about race to classify and criminalize people.”

Advocates’ proposals include rethinking public safety and redirecting law enforcement funds to other support services. Read more at Time. 

3. Twitter’s new feature is inaccessible to disabled users

This month, Twitter rolled out a new feature that allows users to create tweets using their voice. But as Slate reports, the launch created a backlash from members of the disabled community.

Tweets with audio are rolling out on iOS and we only have one thing to say about it

— Twitter (@Twitter) — June 18, 2020

The new audio feature on @Twitter excludes #Deaf people and I have only one thing to say about it. Harvard, MIT & Netflix were all sued for not providing captions. #ADA #accessibility #a11y #Disability Video caption (because Twitter failed to provide one): bird sounds.

— Haben Girma (@Haben Girma) — Jun 18, 2020

In response to one user, Twitter made the case that they rolled out an early version of the feature:

Tweets with audio are rolling out on iOS and we only have one thing to say about it.

Video URL:

— Twitter (@Twitter) — June 17, 2020

Hey @TwitterSupport, this tweet might as well say "Hear us out: we're testing a new way to make tweets inaccessible." At the very least, this shouldn't have been rolled out without including a way to caption it.

— Emily Ladau (@emily_ladau) — June 17, 2020

Hey Emily, this is an early version of this feature. Making these types of Tweets accessible to everyone is important and we’re exploring ways to make that happen.

— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) — June 17, 2020

But as Slate points out, accessibility should be included at the start of the design process:

Experts say that accessibility cannot be an afterthought in product design, because ignoring the needs of disabled people invariably leads to the creation of bad products that don’t serve all users. “No modern business, especially in the high tech industry, would launch a new product with privacy violations or security issues or a new website with broken links or missing content,” said Heath Thompson, who uses a wheelchair and is the chief executive officer at AudioEye, a web accessibility company, in an email interview. “Why is accessibility being treated differently in this regard? When you don’t make digital accessibility a core part of the offering, you are shipping a half-baked product that leaves out a quarter of your addressable audience—people with disabilities.”

Twitter hasn’t yet removed the feature. Read more on Slate.

4. Podcast: A fashion entrepreneur who’s dedicated to “the art and science of dressing with disabilities”

Stephanie Thomas is a disability fashion styling expert and founder and CEO of Cur8able. At the Disability Visibility Project, she talks about the state of inclusion in fashion, what it was like to start her own business, and how to experience power through clothing.

“As a woman living with a disability that’s not often acknowledged as a disability—because I don’t necessarily in some people’s eyes seem disabled enough—it means a lot to me to be able to advocate for other people and say, ‘Hey! You can break out of these horrible myths and misconceptions about disabilities by using something as simple as a tool of clothing or other fashion items. And wear what you love and take authority and power over your own life.’”

Listen to the podcast at the Disability Visibility Project, and explore Thomas’ work at Cur8able

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