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Karolina Pakenaite Faces Disablism On Train For Removing Mask

July 26, 2020

We’re shocked by the video and press release below. Disability exemptions from wearing face coverings have never been a secret. This should go viral so that it never happens again.

Video Credit: Sense

Press release:

A shocking video has highlighted the abuse disabled people are experiencing in the wake of new rules about wearing face masks in public.

Karolina Pakenaite (24), from Southport, has Usher Syndrome (which affects sight and hearing), and was travelling with her sister, Saule (16), and guide dog, on the Merseyrail train, from Liverpool Central to Southport, on Thursday 16th July, when they were challenged by a member of the public for having temporarily removed their face covering.

Saule, had temporarily lifted her face covering so her sister, Karolina, who is deafblind (deaf and severely sight impaired, registered blind) could read her lips.

Government guidance states that disabled people who cannot safely wear face coverings are exempt, as are people who are providing support to disabled people who may rely on lip reading, facial expressions and clear sound for communication.

In the video, the passenger doesn’t accept the pair’s explanation and then challenges them on the description of Karolina being ‘deafblind’, which causes a heated argument, before a member of the public intervenes.

From today, face coverings have been made compulsory in all shops and supermarkets in England and Scotland – as well as on public transport.

A rise in reports of hostility from members of the public towards disabled people for not wearing face coverings, has led to the government issuing an “exemption card” which disabled people can wear to show they don’t need to cover up.

Charities have called on the Government to do more to promote public awareness on who is exempt from the new ruling, to protect vulnerable groups.

Karolina Pakenaite said:

 

“I can no longer stay silent about this as I keep experiencing attacks and hearing similar experiences from others too. It’s taking an effect on my mental health.

Not enough people are taking this pandemic seriously but this behaviour is never acceptable. Please, respect people individually, ask us, listen, discuss and I am always happy to hear ideas for alternative solutions, but harassment, name calling or any type of abuse or aggression will never be ok.”

 

Richard Kramer, Chief Executive, of disability charity, Sense, said:

“Sadly, this isn’t an isolated incident. We are hearing lots of reports of disabled people, and those supporting them, being challenged for not covering up.

These experiences cause distress and anxiety, and lead many disabled people to feel they have to stay at home, where they become isolated.

We welcome the government’s introduction of ‘exemption cards’, but more must be done to raise public awareness of who is exempt from wearing face coverings, so the public are on board and disabled people feel supported.”

Pete Osborne, Director of Operations at Guide Dogs, said:

“We are so sorry that Karolina and her sister had to go through this distressing incident. No one with a disability should have to experience this kind of abuse.

The new environment is difficult enough for people with sight loss and other disabilities to negotiate, so we really need everyone  to understand the challenges people are facing every day.

Such distressing incidents can result in people feeling they can’t go out at all, adding to the real isolation people with disabilities experience.”

Southport MP Damien Moore said:

‘I was extremely disappointed to see the very unpleasant incident unfold on board this train.

‘The rules on wearing face coverings on public transport have been in place for some time now, and have also become mandatory in shops and supermarkets from today.

‘I have been pleased to see the vast majority of people locally have been happy to comply with the requirements, which are designed to keep ourselves and others safe from the transmission of Coronavirus.

‘However, it is important that people know that there are exemptions to the wearing of masks, and these are in place for very good medical reasons. Finding these exemptions is easy to do through the Gov.uk website as well as through other sources.

‘Since the start of the Coronavirus outbreak, we have all had to get used to new ways of life and new ways of doing things. As we do so I would urge everyone to show kindness, tolerance, patience and understanding towards others.’

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