Bristol City Council along with other Local Authorities and public bodies pulled up for ableist messages
New rules concerning the wearing of face coverings on public transport came into force this week. Those using public transport must now by law wear a face covering unless they meet exemption criteria. But Local Authorities and public bodies are coming under fire for promoting messages that are now causing other passengers to target disabled people.
Some of you have questioned why a number of our customers are not wearing face coverings even though they are mandatory on public transport. The Government has identified that certain people are exempt from wearing a face covering.
— First West of England (@FirstBSA) June 16, 2020
First West of England has been forced to step in with a Tweet highlighting exemptions to The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings on Public Transport) (England) Regulations 2020. The regulations state that those using a public transport service such as buses, trains or tubes must wear a face covering from Monday 15 June 2020. This is defined as any type of covering that covers a person’s nose and mouth. Public transport does not include school transport, taxis or private hire vehicles.
But, the requirement to wear a face covering does not include children under the age of 11 or those who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering. This includes those with a physical or mental illness, or an impairment or disability which would be covered by the Equality Act 2010. Those who cannot wear a mask without ‘severe distress’ are also exempt, as are those travelling with or proving assistance to people who lip read.
The full list of what is classed as a ‘reasonable excuse’ falls in section 4 of the act:
4. For the purposes of regulation 3(1), the circumstances in which a person (“P”) has a
reasonable excuse include those where—
(a) P cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering—
(i) because of any physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability (within the
meaning of section 6 of the Equality Act 2010(g)), or
(ii) without severe distress;
(b) P is travelling with, or providing assistance to, another person (“B”) and B relies on lip
reading to communicate with P;
(c) P removes their face covering to avoid harm or injury, or the risk of harm or injury, to
themselves or others;
(d) P is travelling to avoid injury, or to escape a risk of harm, and does not have a face
covering with them;
(e) if it is reasonably necessary for P to eat or drink, P removes their face covering to eat or
(f) P has to remove their face covering to take medication;
(g) a relevant person requests that P remove their face covering
Bristol Marlborough Street Bus Station with one-way systems through the station, social distancing and face covering public
But in a bid to remind the public about the change in law, Local Authorities and public bodies, including government, are failing to adjust their message to inform the public that there are exemptions.
Barrister Steve Broach, who is a disability and children’s rights advocate, spent time on Twitter calling out those who were failing to get the message across. In one Tweet he said ‘I get the need for clear messaging, but the problem is that disabled people need *everyone* to know about the exemptions to avoid being harassed for not covering their faces.’
As well as 10 Downing Street, Steve Broach also highlighted messages from Public Health England, Birmingham City Council, Mayor of London, Transport for London as well as pulling up both National Autistic Society and Mencap up over small issues with their own guidance and wording.
— Steve Broach (@SteveBroach) June 15, 2020
The unclear message is not only problematic for helping to raise awareness of the right to the exemptions, when it comes to social and communication disabilities and autism, the literal use of language may force disabled people off transport through the miscommunication.
Bristol City Council also placed themselves in the firing line for a Steve Broach retweet after Chopsy Bristol and Sally Kent, a founder member of Bristol Send Justice highlighted both a council Tweet and a message from Marvin Rees failing to acknowledge the important exemptions.
Today, the Tweet and video has been reissued with an updated message to acknowledge some of the exemption criteria.
People with certain health conditions, disabled people and children under the age of 11 do not have to wear a face covering on public transport.
— Bristol City Council (@BristolCouncil) June 16, 2020
But by lunchtime today, the updated message still hadn’t hit Bristol City Council’s Facebook page or Marvin Rees’ Mayor of Bristol Facebook page.
First Bus says on its website: ‘If you have an exemption and you are unable to wear a face covering please be prepared to inform the driver and show an Extra help to travel card (Journey assistance card).’ The cards are available for download or can be screen shot and shown on a phone