Face Covering Exemption Project Update

During the COVID-19 Pandemic people were required by law to wear a face covering but for some people this isn’t possible. Since September 2020 Disability Equality Scotland has worked with Scottish Government to run the Face Covering Exemption Scheme. This scheme provided people with a physical card or a digital download which they were able to use as proof of being exempt from wearing a face covering.

To get their exemption people were able to phone a designated helpline or by visiting the www.exempt.scot website. We also ran a survey via the website to get a picture of people’s experience when using their exemption card and the impact of our project.

Key things we found out:

  • Our project provided a physical exemption card to approximately 130,000 people and a digital download copy to roughly 133,000 people.
  • 90% of people who ordered an exemption card did so for themselves, 4% were by a carer on behalf on behalf of the supported person and all other cases were on behalf of someone else.
  • Since getting their exemption card the vast majority found they had increased confidence when going about their daily lives. Roughly 40% said they weren’t as fearful that they would be judged by others because they weren’t wearing a face covering.
  • Since wearing a face covering is no longer a legal requirement the number of people seeking their exemption card has dropped significantly.

What were people’s experiences:

Overall, our project provided disabled people with increased confidence and independence. Prior to receiving their exemption card disabled people faced various challenges. These were that a person was asked why they weren’t wearing a face covering by staff (45%) or by a member of the public (25%). This caused an invasion of privacy for disabled people and in some cases resulted in someone being denied access or entry (17%). The places were denied entry included GP surgeries, shops, and a hospital; these places are essential for day to day living and by being denied entry disabled people were not able to live independently.

After receiving their face covering exemption respondents overwhelmingly said that their card gave them extra confidence when accessing services where a face covering is mandatory.

What we learned from the face covering exemption project:

Our project should be considered an unreserved success in the face of a global pandemic with various unknowns in terms of the COVID-19 virus. Due to our strong working relationship with Scottish Government, we were able to devise and implement the exemption scheme in rapid time. The scheme made sure that disabled people who were unable to wear a face covering could maintain their dignity and independence within the context of COVID-19 restrictions which applied to everyone.

There were challenges as some places where a face covering required did not accept the card. In a specific case a “no mask; no entry” policy proved a barrier to disabled people.  Had there been a clear public communications and engagement strategy running alongside the scheme may have aided private businesses and overcome any difficulties.

At present if you require a face covering exemption you can download your exemption card from the www.exempt.scot.