Face Coverings: Cross-Government Disability Unit Update

The Stakeholder Engagement Team at the Government’s Cross-Government Disability Unit have distributed an update about how it has been able to influence around the subject of face coverings, following their listening to the concerns from disability groups. This is the update:

We are aware of the barriers and challenges the requirement to wear face coverings creates for some disabled people. We are working with colleagues across Government to ensure that the needs and rights of disabled people are considered as thoroughly as possible. We have also been working with teams across government to ensure relevant guidance, including on who is exempt, is supported by clear communication through the central COVID-19 campaign.

We are also aware of the potential for challenge and stigma from members of the public, and this is being considered closely by communicators to ensure we are promoting positive behaviours among all sections of society.

From Friday 24 July people must wear a face covering when visiting a shop or supermarket. This is in addition to social distancing and good hand hygiene, as a face covering can help people protect one another in indoor environments.

The current guidance is published here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/face-coverings-when-to-wear-one-and-how-to-make-your-own/face-coverings-when-to-wear-one-and-how-to-make-your-own. I have summarised some additional key points in relation to disabled people below.

The same exemptions as for public transport will apply in shops and supermarkets, which includes children under the age of 11 and those unable to wear a face covering. Exemptions will apply to those with:

– Breathing difficulties and other respiratory conditions.
– Conditions affecting their dexterity, meaning they are not able to put on a face covering.
– Mental health conditions such as anxiety or panic disorders.
– Other non-visible disabilities such as autism.
– Cognitive impairments, including dementia, who may not understand or remember the need to wear a face covering.
– Visual impairments, with a restricted field of vision, particularly if any residual vision is at the lower edge of the normal field of view.
– Impairments which would make it difficult to put on or take off a face covering safely, accurately, consistently or without pain.

The list of exemptions is not exhaustive and would extend to someone who has a justifiable reason for not wearing one on the grounds of health or disability not outlined above.

The exemptions also apply to people who are with someone for whom a face covering will inhibit communication, for example because they lip read or rely on facial expressions. People will be able to remove their face covering if a person relies on lip reading and BSL to communicate. If a person is in distress because a face covering is being used, a person can remove their face covering to communicate more clearly with their mouths visible so disabled people can lip read. This would include people with learning disabilities and autism.

People do not need to prove they have an exemption. Staff and employees in shops are expected to act reasonably and not challenge people on why they are not wearing a covering. We are currently looking at ways in which we can support people who would be more comfortable being able to show they are exempt.

Staff and employees in shops may be asked to remove their face covering if people are or will struggle to communicate with them. They should do this when it is possible to keep to social distancing guidance. People should continue to follow the advice on using face coverings closely, which is to wash your hands or use hand sanitiser before putting a face covering on and after taking it off. People should try to avoid touching their eyes, nose, or mouth and store used face coverings in a plastic bag until they have an opportunity to wash them.

As part of the work to implement these changes, we have undertaken an Equalities Impact Assessment and have taken advice from disability stakeholder groups. Everyone must wear a face covering when they are in a shop or supermarket if they can, but we recognise reasonable adjustments are necessary for some people. We are keen to hear from stakeholders, such as EHRC, how these measures are working in practice and ask that you keep in touch with us so that we can ensure that if changes to the guidance or communications are needed we can act swiftly on the best data and evidence available.

At this point, the Government is not endorsing any particular style of face covering. The scientific evidence about the effectiveness of transparent panelled face coverings and face shields are limited. We continue to review the latest research on this issue.

I would be grateful in your assistance with ensuring that this information is available to as many disabled people as possible, whether via your RSN network, as well as using your own work/personal networks. We are keen to ensure this type of information is reaching the right people at all levels.

I will be in touch about some of the other information we promised you during last week’s meeting as soon as I can next week.

Stakeholder Engagement Team,

Cross-Government Disability Unit,

Cabinet Office, 10 Victoria Street, London, SW1H ONN

E: Maxine.Thompson@Cabinetoffice.gov.uk

Follow on Twitter @DisabilityGovUK