Faking a Disability to Avoid Wearing a Mask? It Could Come Back to Haunt You

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I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in my social media feed recently. It’s been even more prominent since Governor Newsom’s statewide mask order went into effect. Different versions of a document claiming to exempt people from having to wear a mask in public for physical or mental reasons have been circulating the interwebs.

What does that mean? It means that people are trying to get around policies set by various businesses that require their customers to wear masks, and they are faking a disability to do so.  And unfortunately, many are succeeding.

I have a feeling that many stores don’t want to bother with a confrontation, and so they turn a blind eye. I get it.  I’ve dealt with enough irate customers in my years of working retail to be able to empathize with that. It’s also not being enforced locally, which I also understand. Law enforcement has bigger priorities than chasing down maskless people.

I also understand why people don’t want to wear a mask. I’m not a fan of the masks myself. They’re uncomfortable, my glasses fog up repeatedly, and we’re reaching levels of don’t-touch-me hot here in the North State, which is tortuous as it is.

That being said, I’m not sure who needs to hear this, but if you’re attempting to fake a disability to get out of wearing a mask in a store, you need to re-evaluate your life.

I’m not assuming that every person who claims that they cannot wear a mask is fibbing. There are plenty of people with conditions such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and people who have health conditions that would make wearing a mask more of a risk than a benefit for them. My youngest son has chronic lung disease and can’t wear a mask, although honestly, I doubt he would keep one on for more than five minutes anyway.

I’m not talking about the people with legitimate reasons to go without a mask. I’m talking about the ones who don’t want to wear one because they feel like it violates their liberties; in other words, they just don’t feel like it.

The documents I mentioned above reference two laws, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which are respectively meant to safeguard health information and protect people with disabilities against discrimination. The documents cite  HIPAA as allowing people to say they are “not required to disclose my medical conditions.”

Although people are not generally required to disclose medical conditions when asked, and the ADA demands that businesses make reasonable accommodations for those with disabilities, the ADA does not apply in cases in which health or safety could be compromised. In fact, the ADA , Title III Technical Assistance Manual Covering Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities directly states, “ … a public accommodation may exclude an individual with a disability from participation in an activity, if that individual’s participation would result in a direct threat to the health or safety of others.” (III-3.8000 Direct threat- https://www.ada.gov/taman3.html )

Like, in the middle of a pandemic.

All over social media, there are instructions on how to print out or screenshot and use this “document.” There have also been several recorded encounters circulating along with written anecdotes of anti-maskers confronting store employees, claiming disability, and then basking in the virtual high-fives from their fellow mask-haters when they get away with it.

Here’s the thing; if you don’t like a store’s mask policy, there’s a simple solution: Don’t patronize the store. Many stores have other options available, such as online shopping and curbside pickup. Don’t purposely walk in there with a sketchy “legal” document and threaten to sue if you don’t get your way, because it could come back to bite you. If someone pursues legal action after being denied entry to an establishment by claiming immunity under the Americans with Disabilities Act, that person trying to sue would have to prove that they have a documented disability to win.

Two other things to note: a bona fide legal document would be free of spelling errors. (see “Face Mask Exempt Card”, above) and the ADA put out a warning against these fraudulent flyers. It states on their website, “The Department of Justice has been made aware of postings or flyers on the internet regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the use of face masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of which include the Department of Justice’s seal. These postings were not issued by the Department and are not endorsed by the Department.”

People may accuse me of virtue-signaling here, and that’s fine. I’m looking at this issue through the lens of a parent with two disabled children. I’ve spent years fighting tooth and nail for their rights. Many times it took months of phone calls, letters and going full-on Mama Bear just to be able to get the services and accommodations that they are legally and medically entitled to under the ADA.

So, you can imagine why I get frustrated as Hell when I see people flouting a law that is meant to protect the rights of individuals who are actually disabled.

Don’t be that person.

Jennifer Arnold is a freelance writer specializing in disability and parenting issues. She lives with her husband Earl and their four kids on the outskirts of Redding. She loves to travel when the opportunity presents itself and has a pipe dream of exploring the country with her family in an RV someday

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