Face masks ‘should be mandatory’ say disabled and older people

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Disabled and older people say the further easing of Covid-19 restrictions has left them feeling uncomfortable about using public transport, according to a recent report by Research Institute for Disabled Consumers (RiDC). The report suggests that more than 60% of disabled people now feel uncomfortable travelling with others and more than 85% think mask-wearing on public transport should remain mandatory for the foreseeable future.

RiDC works with businesses and organisations to make products and services inclusive, using the views and experiences of its 2,500 consumer panel members. Over 950 people from its pan-disability consumer panel took part in the survey.

“Freedom Day has the potential to be quite the opposite for disabled and older people,” said RiDC CEO Gordon McCullough. “With the main reason for respondents using public transport being to attend a hospital or GP appointment, it presents a worrying picture. If their concerns limit whether they decide to travel, disabled and older people would also have to find alternative ways to shop and would miss out on valuable time with family and friends – the next two most common reasons they take public transport.”

More than 90% of respondents to the survey who are not exempt from wearing a mask said they will continue to wear one when travelling, and 60% said they would be encouraged to take public transport if other passengers did the same.

“While they can make choices about how they themselves travel,” continued Gordon, “they have no control on the behaviour of those around them. Given that 90% of respondents to our survey have mobility issues, moving to another seat may be easier said than done. And those with a visual impairment might not be aware of who is wearing a mask or not.”

Hannah Langford from Knutsford in Cheshire has muscular dystrophy and uses a powered wheelchair. She used to take the train into London, and has used taxis and buses, but said she won’t be returning to public transport in the foreseeable future: “I have been shielding since March 2020 and I feel like using public transport would be very unwise, particularly as Covid-19 cases have been rising. It’s quite scary now that there aren’t the same precautions in place and we are reliant on people’s common sense. I feel people in my situation have been forgotten.”

“While at the beginning of the pandemic measures like quiet shopping hours were put in place, disabled people are now going out into the community with none of those safeguards,” Gordon concluded. “Their caution about using public transport in the current circumstances is another illustration of decisions being made that limit their sense of freedom and increase their feelings of vulnerability.”

85% of people surveyed think that mask-wearing should continue to be mandatory. RICHARD SHARMAN