Coronavirus: information and updates

My disabled friends are being met with aggression because they cannot wear a mask

I’m Briar and I have Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), a condition where the ears function normally, but the brain cannot process sound properly.

I have difficulties with hearing and understanding speech, especially if there is any background noise.

I am also autistic but personally do not experience sensory difficulties caused by wearing a mask.

Masks mean I can no longer lip-read, but people get impatient when I can’t understand them

When it was announced that masks would be compulsory inside shops and services, I didn’t think much of it as I started wearing a mask at the start of lockdown.

What I did not anticipate however was the impact it would have on communication once everyone else started wearing masks as well.

I had not realised how much I rely on lip-reading to help me understand what people are saying, and people have been getting impatient with me when I cannot understand them.

I have since made a badge to alert others that I have APD.

It has helped others understand and be more compassionate towards my communication difficulties, but I still carry the anxiety from the negative experiences with me.

My disabled friends who can’t wear masks are being discriminated against

The Government has been clear that wearing a mask is compulsory unless you are medically exempt from wearing one.

There are many reasons an individual may be medically exempt, such as autism, asthma, PTSD or being with someone who needs to lip read.

There is no requirement for disabled people to announce their disability to gain access without a mask as a reasonable adjustment. But I am witnessing many disabled friends being met with aggression, contempt, abuse and being discriminated against because they cannot wear a mask.

Some have even been accused of faking being disabled to get out of wearing one.

One friend had a stranger get into her face and shout at her to put a mask on or get out. She was sitting down wearing an oxygen mask.

Masks are an adjustment for assistance dogs too

It is not just disabled people being impacted by face masks - their assistance dogs have been too!

My assistance dog, Bramble, comes everywhere with me and he is my independence. He is incredibly laid back and does not seem to have noticed that anything has changed.

However, people wearing masks is not something most assistance dogs have been habituated with during training and some assistance dogs are reacting with nerves or excitement.

Assistance dog handlers are having to adapt to socialise their dogs with people wearing masks “on the job” and they are trying their best. Loud whispers from strangers about their dog’s behaviour and questioning if they are a “fake” assistance dog, does not help anyone.

People need to be more understanding to those who cannot wear masks

These experiences and confrontations are causing increased anxiety and stigmatisation for disabled people who can, and those who cannot, wear a mask.

Many are now too scared to go out, causing even more isolation for disabled people, negatively impacting mental health.

All these experiences could be made better if members of the public and shop/service staff could act with more kindness, compassion, and empathy. By not interrogating someone who is not wearing a mask, writing a message down if someone is struggling to understand what they are saying, or not judging the assistance dog partnership who are adjusting to a new world.

If a disabled person can wear a mask, they will be. And if they cannot wear one, they still have the right to access the world like those who can.

Support disabled people like Briar. Join Scope’s call for the Prime Minister not to forget disability equality in the Government’s recovery plan. Sign our open letter.

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