Face Masks & Disabilities
All advice in this blog should not replace medical advice. Be sure to follow updates from the WHO and CDC/Health Canada for the most updated advice on COVID-19 management.
As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, the ability to go to stores, restaurants and other public places has been a welcome relief to many after months of isolation. Here in Ontario Canada, the opening of businesses has come with the requirement of all customers to wear a face mask or covering while inside the business (unless seated and eating). These laws are designed to keep everyone safe, while allowing a return to the lives that we have all been missing.
The Accessibility Challenges Of Using Face Masks
But, how do people with disabilities fit into these laws? The use of face masks may be a challenge for many people. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the people who may be limited in their ability to use a face mask includes:
- Someone who has low fine motor skills or spasticity in their upper body may find putting on or taking a mask off difficult
- Someone who relies on lip reading for communication may find it difficult to understand others while they are wearing a mask.
- Someone who uses a mouth-control for their wheelchair such as a sip-and-puff alternative joystick control would not be able to wear a mask while operating their chair.
- Someone who has speech impairment may not be understood while wearing a mask.
- Someone with autism may experience sensory overload when having a mask covering their face
- Someone with PTSD or claustrophobia may experience severe fear when wearing a mask
- Someone with COPD or other breathing difficulty
For all of these reasons and many more, people with disabilities may not be able to wear face masks in public. There is a requirement by the ADA to modify the rules around mask wearing to accommodate people with a disability. Some suggestions include:
- Allowing prompt curbside pickup from a safe social distance, using both telephone and internet orders
- Allowing loose-fitting face coverings when entering buildings, including face shields
- Allowing people to wait in vehicles for appointments, and calling them in when ready
- Providing phone or video appointments as an option
Overcoming Accessibility Challenges of Face Mask Wearing
All of these options are useful, however many of them do not reduce the isolation, or help return life to normal. People with disabilities have been greatly impacted by social isolation, and enabling a return to normal everyday life should be a priority. Some ideas for helping people with disabilities overcome the challenges of wearing masks include:
- Face masks with transparent windows have been made by accessibility-focused groups such as the Como Foundation to help those who are hard of hearing access masks that enable communication through lip-reading
- Face Shields are another more loose-fitting option. Although the CDC does not currently recommend using face shields in place of a mask, they recommend that a mask that wraps around the face, and descends past the chin may be used when a mask is not a viable option.
- Help educate others about the importance of wearing a mask. If you are unable to wear a mask, help others protect you by encouraging proper mask wearing and hand cleaning & surface sanitizing.
We would love to hear your ideas for staying healthy and returning to activities of daily living in the face of COVID-19. Leave a comment below!
COVID-19: Considerations for Wearing Masks. (2020, August 7). Retrieved August 08, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cloth-face-cover-guidance.html Williamson, P. R., Morder, M. J., & Whaley, B. A. (2020) The ADA and Face Mask Policies [Fact sheet]. Retrieved from https://www.adasoutheast.org/ada/publications/legal/ada-and-face-mask-policies.php