Weekly Poll Results –Face Covering Exemptions (Week Beginning 6 July 2020)

Each week Disability Equality Scotland send out a poll question to our members on a topical issue.  For the week beginning 6 July 2020, we asked a question about face covering exemptions.


Question 1. Are you able to wear a face covering?

  • YES – 62% (147 respondents)
  • NO – 38% (92 respondents)

Question 2. Are you concerned about being judged for not wearing a face covering?

  • YES – 89% (178 respondents)
  • NO – 11% (21 respondents)

Question 3. Do you fear being the victim of a hate crime if you are seen not wearing a face covering in public?

  • YES – 87% (197 respondents)
  • NO – 13% (30 respondents)


The following is a summary of the main themes and key concerns of our members regarding face covering exemptions.  We provide verbatim comments where appropriate to illustrate strength of feeling or personal experience.

Discrimination, Abuse and Hate Crime

The majority of respondents were concerned about being judged (89%) or feared being the victim of hate crime (87%) for not wearing a face covering. Disabled people are being challenged for not wearing a face covering and, in some cases, refused entry to retail premises. These actions are demeaning to disabled people and can lead to public humiliation and incidences of disability hate crime.

“I got harassed today at Tesco in Springburn by the security guard. She asked me why I wasn’t wearing a face mask and I said I can’t wear one because of my lung condition and that I don’t need to because of exemptions. She said I was not allowed in without one.”

“I was refused entry to B&Q in Bishopbriggs because I wasn’t wearing a mask. I explained I was exempt and was told by the female employee on the door that I wouldn’t be allowed to enter the store without one.”

“I was very nearly refused to be served in my local fish and chip shop. I walk with crutches and wear a full length caliper on my right leg. I had to explain why I wasn’t wearing a mask in the middle of the shop, after being told I wouldn’t get served for not wearing one, and was made to wait outside for my fish and chips.!”

Public Transport

There have been specific examples of disabled people being subject to abuse on public transport.

“I have already been verbally abused and told to get a mask on by a passenger on the bus. I can’t wear a mask because of a medical condition and don’t see why I should need to explain myself.”

“One person said I couldn’t get on the bus because I wasn’t wearing a face mask. Thankfully, the bus driver sorted it and told them I was exempt. It is quite intimidating.”

“Having already witnessed hate crime on Edinburgh transport I fear this can only increase.”

Public Awareness

Some respondents believed that a public awareness campaign will help alter the attitudes and behaviours of the general public. We recently launched a campaign to raise awareness of the exemptions that are in place for people who cannot wear face coverings, which can be viewed on our website: www.disabilityequality.scot/face-covering

“There has not been enough public messaging on this. Plenty on social media but nothing on TV.”

“Public attitudes towards disabled people has shifted during Covid-19. I think we are seen as carriers of the virus and putting people at risk. There needs to be a public awareness campaign to correct this perception.”

Stress and Anxiety

The prospect of being challenged and the fear of being the victim of hate crime for not wearing a face covering is the source of stress and anxiety for disabled people. In some cases, this has resulted in disabled people feeling like they are unable to leave their homes, resulting in reduced independence and reliance on others.

“I was all geared up to head out yesterday but couldn’t. Panic, anxiety, the fear of being judged. I ended up stuck in the toilet for over an hour. I gave up and couldn’t do it. Awful that we are made to feel this way.”

“I don’t have a visible disability, but not wearing a face covering marks me out as different and I worry about being challenged constantly, so I won’t be shopping much.”

“I am really quite anxious about it all. Since COVID I have found more people to be abusive and stopped going to the shops because people kept questioning me for being out. I am feeling so anxious and lonely and don’t think things will ever get back to a good place.”

“I have severe anxiety that will cause really bad distress, and I am really scared that I’ll receive abuse or hate crime for not wearing a face covering, and I am not sure what to do about it.”


A number of respondents highlighted the communication barriers that are created by wearing face coverings. At Disability Equality Scotland we host the Inclusive Communication Hub (www.inclusivecommunication.scot), a website dedicated to guidance and resources to ensure communications are embedded with inclusive principles.

“I rely on facial expression and lip-reading. I do not object to wearing a mask but need others to make and “adjustment” for me. The guidance is poor!”

“Face coverings muffle your voice and I find that when walking my guide dog, you have to speak louder as the dog does not pick-up on commands when using your normal voice level.”

“We need high quality, comfortable transparent face masks to be widely available and used as soon as possible. Until this is done, huge numbers will continue to suffer severe communication disadvantage, which will impact on social inclusion, workplace productivity and mental wellbeing.”


In conclusion, the majority of disabled people were concerned about being judged or feared being the victim of hate crime for not wearing a face covering. Respondents shared their experiences of being challenged or refused entry into shops and on public transport. This has resulted in increased stress and anxiety for disabled people. Disability Equality Scotland recently launched an awareness campaign which aims to raise awareness of the exemptions that are in place and help to alter the attitudes and behaviours of the general public towards disabled people in Scotland. You can download our awareness poster and exemption card from our website: www.disabilityequality.scot/face-covering