Misunderstanding about the role of face covering exemption cards has led the Disabled Persons Assembly (DPA) NZ to stop sending out the cards.
People who are unable to wear a mask because of their disability or health condition are currently exempt under the health order. However, there is no legal requirement for a face covering exemption card, a medical certificate or any other documentation.
“The Face Covering Exemption Card was developed by the Ministry of Health in 2020 for those people who are exempt from wearing a face covering under the health order simply as a tool to aid people to communicate exemption,” DPA Chief Executive Prudence Walker says.
“At that time, DPA as well as a small number of other national Disabled People’s Organisations were tasked with distributing the cards. However it is increasingly referred to, or demanded to be seen, as ‘proof’ of exemption.
This misunderstanding has lead to legitimately exempt, including people with sensory sensitivities, mental health conditions, those who have experienced trauma, and people with physical conditions such as respiratory disorders feeling discriminated against.
DPA say that if anything the misunderstanding appears to be growing. With last month thousands of parents approaching them requesting cards for their children, the majority appearing to mistakenly believe that an exemption from wearing a face covering is something that could be granted to their child by the DPA organisation and that it was needed to show to a school.
“DPA have therefore made the difficult decision to stop distribution of the cards. We advised the Ministry of Health early in February that we would be no longer distributing the cards, and will stop distribution of the cards at the end of this month.” says DPA Chief Executive Prudence Walker.
Since the end of last year the Government has been reviewing face covering exemptions and DPA, alongside other disability organisations and business community representatives have been consulted around this.