Acting Gender Commissioner Colin Marsh told InDaily that between July 1 and September 15 this year, his office received about 20 disability discrimination inquiries and complaints from people who are unable to wear face masks while in public.
He said the most common problems are due to people being denied access to a business or denied service in a store.
According to current public health guidelines, people over the age of 12 must wear face masks in public places indoors, health services, retail stores, airports and aircraft, geriatric care facilities and in public transportation.
In South Australia, it is not illegal to require a person to wear a face mask to ensure that “an infectious disease does not spread and is reasonable in any case”.
However, exceptions apply to people who have a disability, a medical condition, or a physical or mental illness that makes it inappropriate to wear a face mask.
SA Health says those who are exempt may have had difficulty breathing, a severe facial skin condition, an intellectual disability, a mental health condition or have experienced trauma.
People who are deaf or hard of hearing are also exempt from wearing face masks when visibility of the mouth is essential for communication.
According to the Equal Opportunity Commission, retailers or companies that refuse services to people with disabilities who do not wear face masks can illegally discriminate against them.
“I appreciate that events between countries have raised concerns about the potential spread of COVID-19 and its variants, and people are understandably concerned if someone joins their business refusing to wear a face mask, but it is important to remember that there are legitimate exceptions to the mask mandate and people with disabilities have the right to be treated fairly, ”Marsh said.
“We all remind you that the reasons for not wearing a mask may not be obvious or visible.”
People are exempt from wearing a mask if they have a physical or mental illness or condition or disability, making it unsuitable to wear a face mask.
ℹ️ Several exceptions apply: https://t.co/il7Ymd4vpm pic.twitter.com/9QedE1gS5m
– SA Health (@SAHealth) July 30, 2021
Marsh said formal complaints filed with the Equal Opportunity Commission can be settled to help the parties reach agreement.
He said that if no agreement can be reached, the complaint can be referred to the Equal Opportunity Tribunal.
Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said traders have the right to ask their patrons if they are exempt from not wearing face masks.
He said people with exceptions should have evidence with them.
“Obviously, we do not want general bans on people who do not wear masks,” he said.
“You must not assume that someone is just disobedient to the direction – there may be a legitimate reason why they are not wearing a mask.
“Business owners have the right to ask for proof of that direction.”
Equal Opportunity Commission has recommended people wear a letter signed by their doctor confirming that they are not able to wear a face mask while in public.
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