"I can't wear a mask but I'm not a dick" - I was made to feel like a criminal for not wearing a face covering
People with some health conditions are exempt from wearing face coverings, and language around mask-wearing is fuelling hostility to vulnerable groups
“Don’t be a Dick. Mask up. For goodness sake…it’s cheaper,” read the social media post, as part of the Lancashire County Council’s ‘Mask Up’ campaign.
It has sparked backlash online from people calling the poster ‘offensive’, and accusing the Council of being ‘divisive’, and likely to inflame those who are reluctant to wear face coverings.
As a person with a hidden illness, I can’t wear a mask. Early on in the pandemic, a kind lady in M&S spotted me struggling - she gave me a free sunflower lanyard and explained that their staff are trained to recognise the scheme and that anyone wearing them has a hidden disability and may need extra support.
The scheme is now widely recognised, and I’ve found that most shops are far more understanding of hidden disabilities and haven’t challenged me over my unmasked face.
Until last week.
I was asked to leave a shop for not wearing a mask. When I pointed out my sunflower lanyard, the owner kicked off.
“I don’t care. I care about my customers and you are putting them at risk.”
My partner challenged him, and pointed out that he was in breach of the Equality Act 2010 by discriminating against a person with a hidden disability. He explained the rules about face coverings allow for exemptions.
Face coverings can aggravate some health conditions, such as asthma (and in my case vocal cord dysfunction).
It can trigger anxiety for people with mental health conditions.
They are also unsuitable for people who rely on lip-reading, and young children.
But the owner was unsympathetic. “Anyone can buy a lanyard over the internet, I don’t care about your rights I care about my customers.”
I’m no Covid denier. I’m double jabbed, and never stopped with the 2m distance rule. I avoid crowded spaces, I use hand sanitizer. But I was treated like a criminal.
So I tire of the inflammatory posters and language directed at anyone without a face covering that implies we are all just irresponsible. The language is divisive and fuels hostility towards vulnerable people - one person wearing a sunflower lanyard reported being called a ‘murderer’ in Tesco Express in Lytham for not wearing a mask.
It’s unfortunate that some anti-mask groups have boasted at being able to get them online and pretend they are ‘exempt’. It does cause some shop owners to question whether a person is genuinely exempt.
White explained that he had received messages that people were being abused, verbally and physically because they weren’t wearing a face-covering, which is why we produced a face covering exemption card. He said that the card does rely on goodwill and understanding from the public.
“We do not ask for proof of a person’s disability because there are a number of people whose condition is yet to be diagnosed, or for whom a diagnosis isn’t available, such as with anxiety. Of course, that opens the scheme up for abuse. But the sunflower doesn’t offer anything apart from the ability to demonstrate that you have an invisible condition.”