The Government has put in place restrictions on our activity to help reduce the spread of Covid-19 and some of these have created specific challenges and concerns to disabled people and their families.
We have even observed some bizarre and unacceptable situations where disabled people have been mocked or threatened because they are unable to safely wear a mask on public transport, despite the rules giving them an exemption to wearing the mask.
Baroness Williams of Trafford, Minister of State for Countering Extremism, has clearly stated that this is wholly unacceptable. She said, “We must keep in mind that not everyone can wear a face covering, including those with disabilities. The targeting, mocking and attacking people because of their disability, which may not always be visible, may be a hate crime and will not be tolerated by this government or police.”
If you or someone you know has faced such abuse, we would encourage you to report it to the police here. You could also seek help at the time from transport staff or shop management.
Face coverings - England
The Government has introduced rules that require us to wear face coverings in some circumstances, such as on public transport or in shops. The rules (for England) are set out here.
The rules make clear that some people do not need to wear a mask including;
- if you have a physical or mental illness or impairment, or a disability that means you cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering
- if putting on, wearing or removing a face covering would cause you severe distress
- if you are travelling with, or providing assistance to, someone who relies on lip reading to communicate
- if you are travelling to avoid injury or escape the risk of harm, and you do not have a face covering with you
- if you need to remove it during your journey to avoid harm or injury or the risk of harm or injury to yourself or others
- if you need to eat, drink, or take medication you can remove your face covering
The NHS has circulated a video with an explanation of these rules in British Sign Language
Face coverings - Wales
In Wales it is now a legal requirement to wear a mask on public transport. The Welsh Government website sets out the requirements.
Whether somebody has a reasonable excuse not to wear a face covering will not always be obvious. Disabilities and impairments are not always visible to others and respect and understanding should be shown to those who have good reasons not to wear face coverings.
The Welsh Government advises passengers to carry information if possible which demonstrates why they have a reasonable excuse (for example a prescription or evidence such as a hospital appointment letter relating to a medical condition). A number of transport operators are also suggesting that those who have a reasonable excuse carry cards that can be downloaded from their websites and printed.