We are sharing the following letter to raise awareness about face covering exemptions and public understanding that not everybody is required to, or can, wear a face covering.
If you see somebody who isn’t wearing a face covering, please be understanding, patient and calm.
Share and follow our #ICantWearAMask campaign on social media.
Exemptions from mandatory face covering regulations
I am writing to express concern over the messaging on mandatory face coverings in shops and public transport.
Whilst it is important that everyone who can wear a face covering does so, recent messages from police bodies and others have failed to acknowledge the vital exemptions for people who experience severe distress wearing a face covering or who cannot manage one on account of a disability or long term health condition.
Dimensions is conscious that the people we support, who have learning disabilities and autism, who cannot wear a mask are at increased risk of discrimination and hostility. We have heard from people who have been harassed on public transport and made to feel uncomfortable and fearful. One such individual was in fact travelling to some of Dimensions’ registered care homes to deliver PPE when he was aggressively challenged by the bus driver, who went on to incite other passengers as well.
I also note that some of the people who cannot wear a mask will find it very difficult to explain their eligibility under the exemptions, because of their disability. This may mean they are even more at risk of harassment and targeting and demands that those in positions of authority on transport and in shops have an understanding of the exemptions and are equipped to support people using their services.
There is a growing risk that people who cannot wear face coverings will absent themselves from public transport and shops, out of fear of how they will be treated by others, leading to an ever growing inequality for disabled people.
Dimensions has raised these concerns with the National Police Chiefs Council and will be writing directly to transport operators, the British Transport Police and supermarkets to make them aware of the current risks.
I urge the government to take steps to emphasise the exemptions in the face coverings regulations and encourage the public to act reasonably and empathetically when they observe someone is not wearing a mask. We are asking everyone to think twice before they challenge someone.
A copy of this letter has been sent to the Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work at the Department of Work and Pensions and the Minister of State for Accessibility at the Department for Transport.