Some Americans reportedly citing disability law in order to circumvent mask mandates

Disability expert calls it a 'complete pile of steaming nonsense'

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A woman wearing a mask in New York City
A woman wearing a mask in New York City
(Jeenah Moon/Getty)
Last Updated:
May 23, 2020 - 11:37am

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Some Americans are reportedly citing federal disability law as exempting them from mask mandates imposed by their state's governors, a further sign of the contentious circumstances surrounding local governments' responses to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Karin Willison, a writer and disability advocate, wrote at Yahoo this week about a document that has allegedly been circulating on the Internet, one that appears to claim an exemption to state face covering mandates. 

"I am exempt from the Governor’s regulation mandating face mask usage in public. Wearing a facemask poses a health risk to me. Under the ADA and HIPPA [sic], I am not required to disclose my medical conditions to you," the text of the document reads. 

Willison slams the claims in the document, calling it "a complete pile of steaming nonsense." She writes that HIPAA law "only applies to health care facilities and services" with regard to patient privacy. The federal law "absolutely nothing to do with wearing masks, and does not apply in any way whatsoever to the grocery store or nail salon," she continues. 

Citing the Americans With Disabilities Act, she argues, is also problematic. "Businesses cannot require you to disclose the nature of your disability, but you can’t request an accommodation under the ADA if you don’t need it for your impairment," she said.

The ADA does require businesses to provide "reasonable accommodation" for individuals with disabilities, but that doesn't necessarily mean they have to let a mask-less person enter their establishment, Willison argues; they could fulfill the law's requirements by providing curbside service, for instance. 

In some localities, governments have gone beyond mandating masks in businesses. In Los Angeles this month, for example, the mayor mandated that every resident must wear a mask at all times while away from home.