The novel coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has changed life as we know in many ways. Safety measures such as social distancing, stay at home orders, and the wearing of face masks or cloth face coverings are now part of our daily lives. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing a face mask or facial covering in public places/retail establishments (i.e., grocery stores, pharmacies, etc.) where it is difficult to maintain the six feet social distance from others. In addition to the CDC recommendations, many state and local governments have required the use of a face mask or facial covering in these public spaces.
The wearing of face masks or facial coverings continues to be a hot-button topic despite the CDC recommendations and scientific studies indicating that individuals who are asymptomatic—not experiencing symptoms of COVID-19—can spread the virus to others. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of misinformation online regarding the whether the right to refuse to wear face masks or facial coverings is covered under the Americans Disabilities Act (ADA), including bogus documentation which purports to exempt the holder from state and local mandates and mask policies of individual businesses or facilities. This misrepresentation of the ADA may be confusing and may make it more challenging for individuals with disabilities who find it difficult and/or cannot wear a face mask/covering to receive reasonable accommodations to access goods and services.
The Southeast ADA Center at the Burton Blatt Institute have developed a research brief titled The ADA and Face Mask Policies, which addresses concerns related to mandated state and local face mask/covering requirements; provides examples of persons with disabilities who may be unable to wear a face mask/covering; the obligations of state and local government agencies, and private businesses to provide a reasonable modifications (i.e., accommodations) for persons with disabilities; the exceptions whereby government entities and/or private business do not have to provide a reasonable modification to the face mask policy; and guidance for government entities and/or private businesses to respond to requests for reasonable modifications.
The ADA National Network provides information on the ADA, and the rights and responsibilities of state and local governments and private businesses, and has done so throughout the pandemic in order to ensure individuals with disabilities have access to and may obtain necessary goods and services. For more information and resources regarding the ADA, people with disabilities, and COVID-19, please visit adacovid19.org.
Want to learn more about face coverings and the ADA? Tune in on Tuesday, July 28th for a special session of the ADA Audio Conference Series, Face Coverings and the ADA—Application under Title III.