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Businesses might have to accommodate those who can't wear face masks under the ADA

Businesses may have to come up with alternatives for customers who can't wear masks due to disabilities and chronic conditions.


If you have a condition or disability that prevents you from wearing a face mask/covering, you might be wondering about your rights.

California health officials announced June 18 that people are required to wear masks in most public settings, but there are some exceptions. Those with a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that prevents wearing a face covering are exempt, according to guidance from the California Department of Public Health.

“This includes persons with a medical condition for whom wearing a face covering could obstruct breathing or who are unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove a face covering without assistance,” the guidance said.

Individuals with a hearing impairment or who communicate “with a person with a hearing impairment, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication” are also exempt.

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In a disability issues brief by the Southeast ADA Center and Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University, people with respiratory disabilities, post-traumatic stress disorder, severe anxiety, claustrophobia, autism, and cerebral palsy might not be able to wear face masks/coverings.

The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) doesn’t have any rules that address the required use of face masks by state and local governments or private business owners, according to the briefing. 

“However, these health policies do not invalidate the ADA obligations to ensure that people with disabilities receive an equal opportunity to take advantage of the goods and services being offered by a covered entity. To ensure the provision of an equal opportunity, a covered entity must make reasonable modifications to policies, practices and procedures where necessary,” said Jan Garrett of the Pacific ADA Center in an email to ABC10.

The briefing says after a business receives a request for a reasonable accommodation, there should be a conversation with the person who has a disability to learn why they need a modification to the face mask policy and to find a solution that meets ADA requirements. A modification to the mask requirement could be allowing the person to wear a full face shield or allowing them to order online with curbside pickup. 

Once the business agrees to the reasonable accommodation request, they can “ask for medical documentation about the person’s disability to verify that the individual meets the ADA definition of disability, describe the needed modification or show the relationship between the individual’s disability and the need for the requested modification,” according to the Southeast ADA Center and BBI.



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