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November 20, 2020 – The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law thirty years ago to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities and to extend opportunity and promote inclusion of people with disabilities in society. Here in Nevada County, people with disabilities play an important role in all facets of life and social discourse. We as a community must do what we can to slow the spread of the coronavirus and protect those of us who are at higher risk for serious complications from COVID-19.
We know that older adults and people with some types of disabilities are disproportionally impacted by COVID-19. Californians over age 65 represent 10.5% of CA COVID-19 cases but 73.8% of all CA COVID-19 deaths (source CDPH). While it is important for people who are at-risk for COVID-19 to reduce their exposure, it is equally important for everyone to take it seriously to stop the spread. It is also important to note that the answer is not for people who are at-risk to stay home because we rely on people and services on a daily basis. Some of us need in-home personal care, all of us need to access food and other essential services, and we still need to access healthcare that cannot always be done virtually. It will take the whole community to stop this pandemic.
On June 18 and then again on November 19, Gov. Newsom issued a statewide mandate requiring all persons in public spaces to wear a mask. This mandate came in response to rising rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the state and was an effort to reduce community spread of the virus. As stated in Title III of the ADA, “A public accommodation may impose legitimate safety requirements that are necessary for safe operation.” The mandate to wear a mask in public is a legitimate measure to protect the health and safety of all Californians. We support this mandate because of its proven effectiveness.
Some people with disabilities cannot wear masks. They may not be able to wear a mask due to a chronic health or respiratory condition. They may not be able to wear a mask due to a mental health condition around anxiety or claustrophobia. They may not be physically able to put a mask on due to limited mobility or dexterity or there may be other disability related reasons.
At the beginning of the pandemic there were reports of people in our community obtaining fake “ADA Mask Exempt Cards.” These are not government issued documents/cards and are not supported by the ADA. There is no need to use a card or other document to assert our rights under the ADA. In June 2020, the Department of Justice issued a notice about these inaccurate flyers or cards saying, “The ADA does not provide a blanket exemption to people with disabilities from complying with legitimate safety requirements necessary for safe operations.”
Under the ADA businesses may not provide a reasonable accommodation if it poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others. A reasonable accommodation should not be to allow people to enter our businesses mask-free, thereby jeopardizing the health and safety of all our patrons and employees. Rather, the solution is to offer people who cannot wear masks reasonable accommodations to access our goods and services. Such reasonable accommodations might include:
- Having an employee shop for the person while they wait outside
- Offering online and/or phone ordering and curbside pickup
- Assisting a person who cannot independently put a mask on in doing so before they enter our businesses
- Offering home delivery if it is reasonable to do so
- Offering appointments by phone or video, and more!
We should offer these reasonable accommodations to patrons of our businesses who have disabilities without charging extra fees or surcharges, and we should advertise that these accommodations are available to our patrons with disabilities. Be creative! Protect our community. Save lives. Wear masks.