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Disability advocacy group urges TransLink users not to shame non-mask wearers

Last Updated Aug 7, 2020 at 6:43 am PST

A TransLink bus driver wears a mask. (CityNews)

BC Disability Caucus says most people with disabilities already wear face coverings on transit

People who are exempt from wearing masks may have an invisible disability

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — A group that advocates for the disabled is pleased not everyone will be required to wear a mask on the SeaBus, SkyTrain and buses operated by TransLink once the new policy mandating face coverings kicks in.

The transit agency will be providing exemptions to mandatory masking for people with disabilities, as well as those with underlying health conditions, and children under five years old.

Paul Gilbert is with the BC Disability Caucus and points out most people with disabilities do wear masks on public transit, but there are some instances where accommodation of a physical or psychological condition is needed.

“A friend of mine actually has respiratory problems and can’t wear a mask, she has problems breathing to begin with. And there are people who suffer from anxiety as a result of putting a mask on,” Gilbert notes.

Many of those debilitating conditions are invisible, which Gilbert says could lead to fellow passengers passing judgment on them when they board without a face covering.

“Well, there’s always that problem,” says Gilbert, pointing out that many people who are entitled to disabled parking spots often don’t fit the stereotype of a disabled person.

“You know, routinely, people with disabilities who don’t look like they are disabled but use parking placards get harassed. So that’s just normal.”

To help in situations like these, where non-mask wearers may be shunned by other passengers and targeted by transit police, TransLink will offer a branded card, which will be available at Compass Customer Service Centres at Stadium-Chinatown and Waterfront Stations.

RELATED: TransLink to make masks, face coverings mandatory on transit

Gilbert hopes it won’t be difficult to obtain such a designation.

“Just like with a parking placard, you need a doctor to sign off on it. And doctors will do that. It’s a little bit onerous sometimes, but our society does expect some documentation.”

He says unfortunately people will take advantage of the exemption and pretend to be disabled in order to escape wearing a face covering.

“We don’t want special treatment. We just want a level playing field. We have to be accommodated. It’s not something we are choosing.”

Face masks on Metro Vancouver transit will take effect Monday, Aug. 24. TransLink says while transit police will be enforcing the new rule, initially the focus will be on awareness and education.

In the meantime, the BC Disability Caucus is still waiting for a promised $45-a-year transit pass for people with disabilities. Right now, eligible individuals can receive an extra $52 a month with their disability assistance to pay for transit.

The caucus is also trying to draw attention to how strollers are taking up spaces for the disabled at the front of transit buses.

“That means the disabled are having to wait quite a while before a bus rolls up with room on it,” he says, noting that if people with disabilities don’t have access to transit they don’t have access to the community.