Corey was delivering PPE to one of our services and wasn’t wearing a face covering. He is exempt from regulations becuase he has autism and wearing a face covering can be challenging for him. #ICantWearAMask is a campaign to raise understanding that not everybody can wear a face covering under new government legislation.
On Thursday 2nd July I was waiting to catch a bus so I could deliver some urgent PPE supplies to a Dimensions support service in Wolverhampton. I work for Dimensions, which is a not-for-profit support provider for people with learning disabilities and autism.
Everything seemed normal. The bus arrived on time and I boarded the bus and scanned my pass. But as I started to look for a seat I was immediately asked where my face mask was.
Because I am classed as disabled and therefore find it difficult to wear a mask, I am exempt from being required to wear one, which is explained in official government guidance. But this wasn’t understood.
My explanations were refused, despite me showing my autism card and my disabled concessionary travel pass, and I was sternly told I needed to wear a face mask, no matter what.
I was even told I was endangering myself and those around me by not wearing one, which felt devastating. Of course, face masks are very important right now but thousands of people like me have a much-needed legal right not to wear one.
I tried to calmly explain the situation and avoid any confrontation, but before I knew it, the bus was full of people shouting things like “throw him off” and “he should have official ID”.
It escalated into a hostile and frightening situation, that was completely out of my control. My anxiety skyrocketed and I was shaking.
At this point, with everyone now on the bus, I went to present more ID to prove I am autistic, which is my disability. I was desperate to be taken seriously and for my ID to be read and understood. But because I was shaking, it was hard for the driver to read my ID.
I did end up taking the bus journey, and delivering the PPE thankfully. But I am now making a big effort to wear face masks on public transport to avoid that happening again. I am lucky that I can try to do this because my disability is milder than most. But for lots of people, wearing a face mask simply isn’t an option.
I understand the driver and bus company are trying to make things as safe as possible, but it’s important that people approach these situations considerately, being polite and kind when asking about wearing masks. Despite appearances, lots and lots of people will find wearing a face mask very difficult, and the government has told us that we don’t have to.
I want everyone to understand this, so they think twice before calling someone out who’s not wearing a face mask. I want to make sure no one else like me is made to feel that their disability isn’t valid, or isn’t believed.
There needs to be a greater understanding of hidden disabilities like mine – only then will people like me feel safe and included in society.
Face masks are now required in shops and supermarkets too, so if we’re not careful there will be more instances like what I experienced, and in more settings.
I want to make sure that staff who are working in transport, retail and supermarkets are given clear guidance over the face mask exemptions, and are given the training and support they need to support disabled passengers and customers.
We all want society to be as safe as possible and to come out the other side of the pandemic. But we also need to protect the many people that flat out won’t be able to wear a face mask whatsoever, through no fault of their own.