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40% fear challenge without face masks - DR UK survey

18 June 2020

Disabled people are frightened about travelling as lockdown eases due to a lack of public awareness and clarity about exemptions to the mandatory need to wear face coverings on public transport, according to a new survey by Disability Rights UK.

Nearly 40% of respondents said that they cannot wear a face covering.

Just under half of these said that mental health conditions and breathing impairments would prevent them from wearing a mask, with a fifth citing sensory issues and needing to intake medication and/or food and drink while travelling.

Nearly forty per cent said they had a hidden disability which affects their ability to wear a mask, and 13% said they needed to lip read.

Nearly 60% said they feared being challenged if they did not wear a mask, with the same amount not feeling they had the confidence to stand up for themselves if challenged.

Almost 70% said they feared being judged for not wearing a mask, and 55% feared being the victim of a hate crime if they were seen without a mask.

Fazilet Hadi, DR UK Head of Policy said: “Rail and bus companies only had a week to get their houses in order regarding this change of policy on public transport, and the public had less than a day between the announcement on the weekend, and the Monday morning when the changes came into effect.

“Government has to improve its communications strategies with big shifts like this.

“Releasing information on a Sunday for a Monday morning start, with no awareness campaign, no posters on buses and trains to provide reassurance about exemptions, and guidance hidden deep on the gov.uk website leads to the kind of horror stories we have been hearing from disabled people that members of the public have been calling the police on them for not wearing masks while on trains, and British Transport Police refusing to let people through station barriers without face coverings, even when they have insisted they have an impairment which makes them exempt.

“Transport companies need to train all staff to allow those who cannot wear a mask for medical reasons to travel without further questioning or harassment. And they need clear signage on their vehicles to reassure the public that not everybody will be able to wear a face covering.

“As one survey respondent said: “Having both fines for not wearing a mask, and an unproveable exemption alongside each other is an impossible situation. Greater global clarity is needed, and fast.”