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Mask rage: ‘One man told me I shouldn’t be allowed out if I can’t wear one’

In the past few weeks, Paul Feeley has been abused four times for not wearing a mask on public transport. “I have a disability lanyard, which signifies I have a hidden disability. I tried to show it … And all I got back was a complete torrent of abuse.”

The most recent incident took place just after he first spoke to the Observer on Thursday. The abuse has made Feeley, who suffers from fibromyalgia, borderline personality disorder and panic attacks, feel “extraordinarily angry, anxious and upset”. He is unable to wear a face covering due to his medical conditions, and legally he is exempt – but he is now worried about travelling on buses and trams in his home town of Manchester. “One man said to me, ‘If you can’t wear a mask, you shouldn’t be allowed out.’”

Incidents of “mask rage” are making disabled people who are unable to wear a covering fearful of going out in public, charities warn, as they call on the government today to raise awareness about the legitimate reasons many people cannot wear them.

A wide range of charities – including Mind, Dementia UK, the National Autistic Society, Mencap, Asthma UK and Sense – want the government to mount a public awareness campaign about hidden disabilities and the mask exemption rules. These state that, for example, you do not need to wear a face covering in shops or on public transport if you find it difficult because of a physical or mental illness or disability, or if you are assisting someone who relies on lip reading to communicate, or if wearing a mask would cause you “severe distress”.

Charities are being inundated with calls from disabled people who are feeling extremely anxious. “We’ve seen a significant number of people raising it [the issue],” said Tim Nicholls, spokesperson for the National Autistic Society. “What they have told us is that they can’t wear a mask and they also don’t feel like they can go out without one because they will be challenged, so they are just going to stay in.”

Wearing a mask can be overwhelming for an autistic person, he added. “You can feel like you’re being smothered and suffocated. I think that if people understood, they would feel more empathy and sympathy.”

Face masks can also be problematic for people living with learning disabilities and anxiety disorders, leading to extreme distress or panic attacks, the charities say. “If people aren’t able to wear a mask for health reasons, they may feel guilty and worry about what others think. Challenging or verbally assaulting someone [for not wearing a mask] is likely to negatively affect their mental health, set their recovery back and could even prevent them from leaving the house,” said Stephen Buckley, spokesperson for the mental health charity Mind.

The government needs to do more to communicate the exemption rules, said Sarah MacFadyen, head of policy at Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation. “There’s not a lot of clarity in the public communications about who does and doesn’t need to wear a mask, and why that is,” she said. “The government needs to communicate that better and explain the full range of reasons why some people – such as those with severe lung conditions – might find it impossible.”

The charities are also calling on supermarket chains and public transport companies to make announcements reminding people not to assume that anyone not wearing a mask is breaking the rules. “The government needs to lead the way, but it’s also about supermarkets, transport companies and other places where masks are needed, being confident about communicating that – and saying please don’t challenge anyone,” said Sarah White, of the disability charity Sense.

Read the original article at The Guardian

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