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Disabled People Still Facing Mask Discrimination – DR UK writes to Chair of Police Chiefs Council

15 January 2021

Disabled people still facing mask discrimination – DR UK writes to Chair of Police Chiefs Council

Police officers are still wrongly claiming that people with disabilities must carry paperwork proving they are exempt from wearing face coverings.

Disability Rights UK has joined with Big Brother Watch, Mencap, the Royal National Institute for Deaf People and the Survivors Trust to write to the Chair of the National Police Chiefs' Council Martin Hewitt outlining concerns about the treatment of people who are legally exempt from the requirement to wear face coverings, citing "widespread confusion" among police officers.

Government guidance has been contradicted by senior police figures including Ken Marsh, Chair of the Metropolitan Police Federation who told press: “If you have a medical reason for not wearing a mask, you now have to print off a clarification that proves you have an exemption." No such requirement exists in law.

West Midlands Police Force has twice had to apologise for its officers, after an asthmatic man was handcuffed and issued with a fine for failing to supply evidence of his condition, and another man was escorted out of a supermarket for having no proof of his exemption.

A West Midlands Police officer was recorded telling an individual that supplying evidence of a disability would not prevent officers from issuing a Fixed Penalty Notice and that people would have to prove their exemption in court. The force has still not apologised for this,and issued a statement of support for the actions.

A DR UK survey last year found that 60% of disabled people "feared being challenged if they did not wear a mask.

A recent Department of Health campaign stated: "you should never challenge anyone for not wearing a face covering. Not all disabilities are visible."

Fazilet Hadi, Head of Policy at DR UK said: "At this time of rising panic about the virus, resulting in calls for increased enforcement, it is even more vital that all police officers understand that some disabled people are exempt from wearing face coverings, due to physical or mental conditions.

“Disabled people who can't wear face coverings already experience high levels of anxiety and have faced hostility from members of the public. It is important that police officers demonstrate understanding and uphold the exemptions set out in the regulations.

“We are urging police chiefs to clarify the legal exemptions on face covering requirements to officers, amid fears that disabled people will be disproportionately impacted by the latest crackdown on Coronavirus laws.”

 Read the letter to Martin Hewitt by clicking here.