As the science about the spread of the coronavirus has developed over the last few months, the Government’s view on the importance of face coverings has changed. The science now shows that if people are in enclosed spaces, for example on a train or in a shop, face coverings can help protect people from getting and transmitting coronavirus if most people wear one.

Many autistic people will be able to wear a face covering and we have heard from lots of people who have prepared themselves for this change. But for some autistic people it will be too hard. This might be because of the sensory differences autistic people experience, or they might become really distressed or want to remove their mask. So, there are important exemptions in place for autistic people who will struggle to wear a mask.

We are working with autistic people to develop information and tips for you if you want to wear a mask.

From the 31 July Face coverings are now mandatory and should be worn in public indoor venues unless you have a legitimate reason not to wear one.
It is not mandatory to wear face coverings in:

  • Eat-in restaurants and pubs
  • Hairdressers 
  • Gyms

The Government has said that you don’t need to wear a face covering if you have a legitimate reason not to, which includes:

  • Young children under the age of 11 (Public Health England do not recommended face coverings for children under the age of 3 for health and safety reasons)
  • Not being able to put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability
  • If putting on, wearing or removing a face covering will cause you severe distress
  • If you are travelling with or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading to communicate
  • To avoid harm or injury, or the risk of harm or injury, to yourself or others

If you do wear a face covering, there are times when you are allowed to remove it when you’re asked to:

  • In a bank, building society, or post office for identification
  • By shop staff for identification, for example when buying age-restricted products like alcohol
  • Speaking with people who rely on lip reading, facial expressions and clear sound. Some may ask you, either verbally or in writing, to remove your covering to help with communication.

It won’t be compulsory for shop or supermarket staff to wear face coverings, but many staff will wear masks, or be behind screens.

On public transport

In England, the rules are that you have to wear a face covering on public transport unless you have a good reason not to. The Government has given some examples of when you don’t have to wear a face covering, which include:

  • if you are younger than 11 years old
  • if you can’t put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability
  • if putting on, wearing or removing a face covering will cause you severe distress
  • if you are travelling with or helping someone who relies on lip reading to communicate
  • to avoid harm or injury to you or others.

This means that if you or the person you support is autistic and finds putting a face covering on really hard or distressing, you don’t have to wear one. The Government’s list isn’t exhaustive, which means there could be other reasons why you don’t have to wear a face covering too.

We have told the Government that transport staff and the public need to know about these exemptions so that you or the person you support aren’t challenged by staff, the public or the British Transport Police. We have produced an information sheet that you can share with transport staff if you are asked why you are not wearing a face covering and you can also download our I am Autistic card.

What to do if someone asks you why you’re not wearing a face covering

You do not need to prove that you are autistic to be exempt. But, we recommend you download and print our information sheet that you can share if you are asked why you are not wearing a face covering and you can also download our I Am Autistic Card. 

If you are challenged or harassed because you are not wearing a face covering, try and speak to a staff member or show them your I am Autistic card. If you don’t feel comfortable or safe to do so, you can report this to the police. It’s not okay for people, whether that’s the public or staff, to challenge people aggressively.

Individual places’ rules on face coverings

We have been hearing some businesses are going beyond the Government guidance and telling everyone they have to wear a face covering, even if it’s not an enclosed space. This is wrong – as they should be allowing you not to wear one as a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act 2010.

If you want advice or are worried about these changes, you can contact our Helpline.