7 October 2020 | Comment | Article by Joy Davies

The impact of face masks on those with disabilities

The Welsh Government has recently confirmed that the use of masks, or face coverings, will be legally required for anyone over the age of eleven in all indoor public places.

However, there are some exceptions. The government has confirmed that a person does not have to wear a face-covering if they have a ‘reasonable excuse’ not to. This could include the following:

  • They are not able to put on, wear or remove a face covering, because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability.
  • Wearing a face mask would cause them severe distress;
  • Someone with them needs to read their lips to communicate; or
  • They need to eat, drink or take medication.

England also has similar exemptions, with further details on the UK Government website.

The past six months have impacted us all in very different ways and we are all continuing to adapt to the ever-changing regulations to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. However, these challenges have been particularly difficult for those suffering from physical and mental health problems as well as those suffering from brain injuries.

Our clients within the Hugh James Court of Protection department often struggle with cognitive difficulties which will impact on their ability to wear a face covering. Although our clients have been deemed by the Court of Protection to lack capacity to manage their property and affairs, we encourage our clients, where possible, to maintain as much independence as possible.

Lots of our clients have reported a degree of anxiety at the prospect of these new regulations and the changes this will have for them when undertaking their normal routines. Many of them will be exempt from wearing facial coverings in public places due to their pre-existing conditions. However, they are likely to be apprehensive at the prospect of attending public places without a facial covering for fear of being:

  • stigmatised or judged in public for failing to comply with the requirements; and
  • fined for failing to wear a mask if their ‘reasonable excuse’ is not considered acceptable.

It may not always be obvious if a person has a ‘reasonable excuse’ not to wear a face covering. As a society, we must show a level of respect and understanding and be sensitive to the fact that not all reasons why someone may be exempt are visible and obvious.

People are not required to provide proof that they are exempt, it is for the individual to choose how they would want to communicate this to others. Some of our clients have found the use of identity cards to be effective in similar situations to indicate a hidden disability. For example, the Headway Brain Injury Identity Card has been designed to help police officers and staff more easily identify brain injury survivors and ensure they receive an appropriate response and support. Further information on these identity cards can be found on the Headway website.

Alternatively, it could be possible for those who are exempt to approach their General Practitioner or consultant to see if they are able to provide a letter to stipulate their reasons for not wearing a face mask.

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with the prospect of wearing a face-covering in public spaces - or the fear of being scrutinised for not wearing a face-covering - then there are a number of charities who are providing helpful tips, advice and support, including:

About the Author:

Joy Davies is a solicitor in our Neurolaw team. She specialises in applications to the Court of Protection for statutory wills and other property and affair issues. She assists with providing professional deputy input to those who lack the necessary capacity to manage and administer their own finances. In addition, Joy manages the running of our ongoing professional personal injury trust files.

Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.

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