COVID-19 Mandatory Mask Policies and the Need for Accommodation

DABC has been hearing a lot of concerns about the recent recommendations from the provincial and federal health officers about wearing masks as an added layer of protection against COVID-19 whenever physical distancing is not possible. We believe it is important to emphasize that accommodations must be made for people with disabilities who may face challenges related to these recommendations.

While we agree that everyone should take all possible steps to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, we are concerned about how some businesses and services are implementing these recommendations as they start to reopen. Although both Dr. Bonnie Henry (BC’s Provincial Health Officer) and Dr. Theresa Tam (the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada) have specifically acknowledged that not everyone is able to wear a mask, and that accommodations may be necessary, many businesses are introducing mandatory mask policies, and not making necessary exceptions or accommodations. While such policies are clearly intended to help protect workers and members of the public, they can discriminate against people who have disabilities that make it difficult or impossible to wear a mask. For example, many people with disabilities cannot physically put on a mask or cannot wear one due to breathing issues. Many people who wear hearing aids have expressed concern that putting the elastic around their ears affects the volume or causes the hearing aids to come out. We are also hearing from people who are Deaf or hard of hearing who rely on lipreading.

We are concerned that people with disabilities who are unable to wear masks are being excluded from certain spaces, or being otherwise stigmatized for not wearing one.

We hope that businesses and services will keep the following points in mind as they start to reopen:

the mask recommendation is permissive and not intended to be a mandatory measure;

mandatory mask policies can discriminate against people whose disabilities mean they are unable to wear one, and businesses and services should make appropriate accommodations; and

the most important public health measures for preventing the spread of COVID-19 continue to be staying home when sick, regular handwashing, and practicing physical distancing.

If you are unable to wear a mask due to your disability, and have been refused access to a business or service because of a mandatory mask policy, please contact us at lawclinic@disabilityalliancebc.org or 604-872-1278.