Government issues face covering exemption cards as disabled people fear abuse

The Government has produced special cards for people exempt from wearing face coverings in shops and on public transport, amid fears they will face abuse from others.

The cards, intended for people with conditions or disabilities that mean they do not need to comply with new rules in England, are available to be printed or shown on mobile phones.

The move comes after charity Disability Rights UK said it had received reports of “horrific” abuse aimed at some people with exemptions.

A number of disabled people told the PA news agency that they feared public confrontations as the rules came in to effect.

One of the Government’s cards states “I am exempt from wearing a face covering. Be kind. Keep your distance. Thank you for understanding.”

Another reads: “Please remove your face covering so I can understand you better.”

Charities and others had been creating exemption cards for people with exemptions during the pandemic, but it was suggested a Government-made card would send a stronger message.

James O'Rourke (left) with his brother Tony, who has a moderate to severe learning disability
James O'Rourke (left) with his brother Tony, who has a moderate to severe learning disability

James O’Rourke, 58, from Chingford, fears his brother Tony, 57, who has a moderate to severe learning disability, will be subjected to “inevitable abuse and prejudice” due to the new guidance.

A spokesperson for Photosymbols – a company that has been making exemption cards since before coverings were made compulsory on public transport – praised the move but said it came too late.

“It’s great that the Government have taken this step, but this should have been forthcoming five or six weeks ago,” they told PA.

“It would have saved a lot of people a lot of anxiety.”

“The new regulations are an important step forward in our efforts to defeat coronavirus but I would urge the public and businesses to be mindful of people who are exempt from wearing a face covering – particularly those with disabilities and health conditions,” Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work Justin Tomlinson said.

“Some disabilities are hidden and not immediately obvious and everyone must play their part and act sensitively towards people who may need additional support.

“I will continue to work across government to ensure our guidance and responses to the pandemic are as inclusive and accessible as possible.”