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Be kind to people who are exempt from wearing face coverings

A local charity for disabled people calls for compassion and understanding at a time of heightened public tension and anxiety.

Exemption from face covering card crop

On Friday last week (31 July), the day face coverings became compulsory in shops, the UK government issued a press release asking businesses and the public to ‘be mindful’ of people who are exempt from wearing a face covering. It makes clear that people are not required to prove they are exempt and that it’s for individuals to choose how they want to communicate this to others.

The government has now produced guidance and a new range of exemption cards are available to print or display on mobile phones bearing the wording, “Be kind. Keep your distance. Thank you for understanding.”

These announcements come at a time when charities are calling for the government to listen to and better understand the concerns of disabled people on this issue and to do more to promote awareness around who is exempt from face covering rules following reports of disabled people facing hostility from businesses and members of the public.

At Disability Sheffield we’re hearing about people’s general anxieties and some incidents of verbal aggression, poor service and lack of understanding from staff in shops and on public transport, despite them showing an exemption card. This may be due to an initial misunderstanding of the rules or it may be the tip of the iceberg, as more disabled people who are exempt venture back out into the city following the easing of restrictions.

It's important to recognise the need for balanced messaging around wearing face coverings in shops and on public transport, including the fact that some disabled people cannot wear face coverings and that this should be respected.

An understanding of the exemptions through better messaging will help disabled people feel that they can shop and travel safely to buy food, access services and get to and from work without fear of becoming the target of hostile remarks.

Disability Sheffield works alongside the Sheffield Transport 4 All user group to understand issues and communicate with service operators. Regarding face coverings on public transport, Vice Chair James Martin said :

For some, the distress caused by a face covering could easily trigger a situation where medical attention is required. That would be bad for the NHS and for passengers delayed while medical attention arrives. Exemption from face coverings for these individuals is the best solution for everyone.

We need to trust that people with an impairment will wear a face covering when they can, and understand when it is less risk for others if they don't. Some visually-impaired people might need assistance from staff, depending on where their remaining field of vision is and if a mask blocks this.

Please get in touch with Disability Sheffield to let us know about your experience, whatever it is, and whether we can help by contacting a service provider on your behalf or by reporting any incident where you felt threatened.

All of the latest information about face coverings, including how to get an exemption card if you would like one, is available on Disability Sheffield’s Coronavirus Information and Support page.

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