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Disabled people still facing discrimination over face coverings

14 July 2020

Disabled people are not being listened to when it comes to exemptions from wearing face masks, DR UK has told the Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson MP.

In a letter to Mr Tomlinson, DR UK Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi wrote: “Disability Rights UK is horrified at the media coverage on face coverings. The message is that face coverings are compulsory with no mention of exemptions for disabled people or children. The talk is of police fines and criminalisation for those that don’t comply.

“Taking the lead from government messaging, [on 14 July] on Radio 4… both the Mayor of London and the CEO of the British Retail Consortium, used aggressive and punitive language regarding people who did not comply.

“We would ask that government urgently recognises the need for balanced messaging, including that some disabled people cannot wear face coverings and that this should be respected. If the messaging doesn’t change, millions of disabled people will not be able to safely leave their homes. For those of us that do, we will experience, fear, anxiety, possible conflict with public and police  and demands to prove our impairment/illness.

“We would welcome any support you can give to prevent hostility towards disabled people.”

In a statement to the House of Commons this afternoon, the Minister for Health, Matt Hancock today announced that mask wearing would be compulsory in shops. He said: “Face coverings should be mandatory in shops and supermarkets. Under the new rules people who do not wear a face covering will face a fine of up to £100 in line with the sanction on public transport. And just as with public transport, children under eleven and those with certain disabilities will be exempt.”

Fazilet Hadi said: “We hope that this marks the start of a shift in messaging around face coverings. We strongly urge national media channels to do their bit to ensure that the general public is aware that disabled people do not necessarily have to wear a face covering. Disabled people are bearing the brunt of aggressive public challenging on masks. It’s been a tough three months for us in lockdown. Coming out to hostility from people who are unaware of the exemptions is not helping us to get back to leading full, independent lives.”

Note: The Government has issued the following guidance on exemptions to wearing a face covering where they are mandated:

“In settings where face coverings are mandated in England, there are some circumstances, for health, age or equality reasons, whereby people are not expected to wear face coverings in these settings. Please be mindful and respectful of such circumstances noting that some people are less able to wear face coverings.

It is not compulsory for shop or supermarket staff to wear face coverings, although employers should consider recommending their use where appropriate and where other mitigations are not in place. For example, there will be times when screens or visors are in use, or when a staff member is not in close proximity to people they do not normally meet, and so wearing a covering for staff will not be necessary.

Employers should continue to follow COVID-19 secure guidelines to reduce the proximity and duration of contact between employees.

You do not need to wear a face covering if you have a legitimate reason not to. This includes:

  • young children under the age of 11
  • not being able to put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability
  • if putting on, wearing or removing a face covering will cause you severe distress
  • if you are travelling with or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading to communicate
  • to avoid harm or injury, or the risk of harm or injury, to yourself or others
  • to avoid injury, or to escape a risk of harm, and you do not have a face covering with you
  • to eat or drink, but only if you need to
  • to take medication
  • if a police officer or other official requests you remove your face covering

There are also scenarios when you are permitted to remove a face covering when asked:

  • If asked to do so by shop staff for the purpose of age identification
  • If speaking with people who rely on lip reading, facial expressions and clear sound. Some may ask you, either verbally or in writing, to remove a covering to help with communicatio
  • For exemptions in different parts of the UK please refer to the specific guidance for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.”

Source: Face coverings: when to wear one and how to make your own available from gov.uk.