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Mask Exempt Disabled People Have the Right to Shop in Peace

Almost 25% of the British population are disabled, not every disabled person is required to shield, or may be mask exempt, but myself and millions of others are. So we should be entitled to exercise that right without fear of repercussions.

Firstly, because it is distressing and difficult enough to live with a disability already – shopping and leaving the house can often be nothing short of a military operation. Secondly, because it’s part of the guidelines.

Official Government Guidelines state that if you are exempt from wearing a mask you DO NOT have to provide any evidence, this includes a sunflower lanyard, or exemption badge “carrying an exemption card or badge is a personal choice and is not required by law.” (gov.uk). So, why are we penalised so heavily for simply living our life?

When panic buying started we were also the ones worst hit – the ONS found 31% of disabled people were worried about getting access to groceries, medication and essentials compared with just 12% of nondisabled people.

The last 12 months have been difficult for everyone, no group more so than people living with existing health issues and disabilities like myself. Disabled people have been disproportionately affected by the COVID pandemic, by comparison to our able bodied counterparts, this is evident by the death toll. 

I have Neurofibromatosis type 2. I already found shopping difficult, I’m off balance, weak and slow. I have one arm that doesn’t work, breathing problems and hearing loss. I’ve never warmed to the idea of a sunflower lanyard, to me it’s an open invitation to nosy strangers to invade my personal space, under the guise of “being kind”.

I’m not saying for one moment everyone who extends a hand to me is being nosy, but I get stopped and asked questions about my disability enough already.

I feel that a lanyard isn’t an accessibility tool for me, but just something to brand me like cattle, to further segregate me to a minority group, “that’s where she belongs so mark her up”.

In the same way that you maybe feel entitled to feel empowered and supported by wearing a lanyard, I wholeheartedly am happy if you feel that way – I am entitled to dislike that because it feels more divisive than inclusive.

It is for these reasons, that I won’t be printing off a badge, it cannot just be me who thinks it is degrading and inhumane to ask someone to wear a physical piece of identification that identifies you as disabled?

I like the idea of a wristband, or I.D in my purse for use in the event of an accident, but not to please a supermarket employee who is all hopped up on a power trip.

Now lockdown is easing in the U.K, non-essential retail stores opened again on April 12th, so I actually ventured out. I was pleasantly surprised to not be accosted by anybody, staff or public for daring to be maskless in public.

My fears and worries about being aggressively approached have definitely not disappeared overnight, they’re just now accompanied by the dread of being forced to queue before I shop.

To be clear, I think everyone who is able to wear a mask should wear one to protect others and those of us who can’t. I just want people to remember that not all of us can wear masks and not tar us all with the same brush.


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