Even before the city of Austin, Texas, required customers and employees doing business in the state capital to wear face masks, many businesses already had imposed the rule.
Customer Gene Rodgers said he was asked to leave an Austin grocery store when his mask had slipped below his nose.
He asked the employee if he would mind pulling the mask up for him but was told, “No sir, I don’t believe I can do that.”
Rodgers experienced a spinal cord C-5 level injury, causing paralysis from the shoulders down, when he was 17.
He is retired from working in disability rehabilitation in various capacities. He has worked in New Mexico, Texas and California.
That day, he had traveled to the store from his home in his power wheelchair down a bumpy sidewalk, and along the way, the mask his attendant had secured for him had slipped down.
After leaving the store, he said, he couldn’t find anyone willing to help him adjust the mask, so he went home without his groceries.
Wearing a face mask is one important way to protect others and slow the spread of COVID-19. According to the CDC, wearing a mask may prevent the virus from spreading when people are speaking, coughing or sneezing within 6 feet of another person.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, children under age 2 and anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove a mask without assistance, should not use cloth face coverings.
The city of Santa Fe’s face cover ordinance provided exemptions, said City Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth, who sponsored the measure.
She said in an email those exemptions include when a person is in their own vehicle or alone in an enclosed space, doing outdoor physical activity at least 6 feet from another person and drinking or eating. There also is an exemption for when a face covering might cause or aggravate a health condition.
“We are balancing the need to reopen our economy, heavily reliant on tourism, with the responsibility to protect public health while also looking out for the workers in our community,” Romero-Wirth said.
Wearing a face mask has become a contentious issue. According to a recent article in Psychology Today, some people believe any requirement to wear a face mask is limiting their constitutional right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
The Declaration of Independence also mentions the right to freely pursue joy and live life in a way that makes you happy, as long as you don’t do anything illegal or violate the rights of others.
But I have a devilish suspicion these same freedom advocates have no problem with the “no shirt, no shoes, no service rule.”
Still, there should be considerations in mask rules for people with certain medical conditions and disabilities.
The Americans with Disabilities Act provides accommodations for those who ask for the exemption or modification because of a disability. This may include some individuals with autism, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and people with post-traumatic stress disorder, claustrophobia, severe anxiety and other disabilities.
However, the ADA does not have any rules that address the required use of face masks by state and local governments or private business owners.
If a person with a disability is not able to wear a face mask, state and local government agencies and private businesses must consider how a person with a disability can still participate in, or benefit from, the programs offered or goods and services that are provided.
A reasonable modification means changing policies, practices and procedures, if needed, to provide goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations to an individual with a disability.
This modification may include allowing a person to wear a full face shield, or to be served curbside. It also could include providing patrons with the option of a free or discounted home delivery service available by phone or online.
Andy Winnegar has spent his career in rehabilitation and is based in Santa Fe as a training associate for the Southwest ADA Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.