As you are aware, from Friday 24th July 2020, it will be compulsory to wear a face covering in shops and supermarkets in England. Many disabled people are exempt from wearing one and because of this it has raised serious concerns about the rising tide of coronavirus-related disability hate crime, amid fears that this could increase even further from today.
But despite those exemptions, many disabled people who cannot wear face coverings have already been subjected to disability-related hostility online and while travelling on public transport, where it is already compulsory – except for those with exemptions – to wear a face covering.
We should both re-assure and support disabled people in terms of real hostility and remind our communities that verbal abuse can still be recognised as a potential hate crime and as such will not be tolerated.
We should all take notice and ensure that disabled people are not bullied out of any normal life we should be able to expect, and remind the public and those who affect our lives that the added pressure of fear should not be added to an already difficult situation. Potentially there are thousands of disabled people who fear for their safety and therefore will not leave their homes and become more isolated and lonely and for those that do go out, may experience fear and anxiety, possible conflict with public and police and demands to prove our impairment/illness.
In a recent survey carried out it was found 62 per cent of DDPOs (deaf and disabled people organisations) reported an increase in disability hate crime referrals on the previous week.
Among the trends, Inclusion London has seen a rise in disability hate crime by neighbours of disabled people, and an increase in cases of disabled people being spat at while out in public because of the mistaken idea that disabled people are “virus spreaders”. There has also been an increase in online hate crime, with disabled people “told that their lives are inferior and [that they] are taking up resources from non-disabled people”.
Disabled people have also reported being targeted while shopping if they have personal assistants or carers with them or if they need priority in shopping queues.
Disability hate crime during the coronavirus pandemic has not come from nowhere – the image of disabled people as virus spreaders and taking resources from non-disabled people must be addressed.
Examples of hate crime against disabled people include:
- Being told on social media that disabled people should be locked inside until there was a vaccine because they “are more likely to catch it and pass it on”.
- One nurse said to a disabled person that all those not wearing masks should be forced to sign away their rights to health equipment and treatment by health professionals who are “risking their lives because of you”.
- People who don’t wear a mask because they are disabled, not worth sobbing for.
- I looked at your profile, you seemed fine???
We understand that the widespread hostile comments on social media are “scary” as a disabled person and made them feel petrified to go out.
Many disabled people have reported that they are scared to go out because people are not just being hostile, they do not care that being disabled makes it hard and they feel totally scared and boxed in with zero support.
One disabled passenger on public transport, who cannot wear a face covering, was targeted by another passenger, who shouted: “This person hasn’t got a mask. This person is trying to infect us. They are trying to kill us.”
A disabled train passenger who did not have a face mask because of breathing difficulties was confronted by another passenger, who refused to listen to their explanation, took a spare mask out of their pocket and forced them to put it on.
They felt under so much pressure that they put the face mask on and left the train, explaining that was the only way to placate the other passenger.
We understand that many disabled people, and particularly those with ‘hidden’ disabilities, could be worried about being challenged by others if they are not wearing face coverings in a setting that requires it.
Government guidelines have set out a number of exemptions to the wearing of masks, including on grounds of disability. We understand that some external organisations have developed ways to indicate that an individual is exempt, such as wearing badges or carrying exemption cards.
How to report
Any disabled person who is victim of hate crime should report it to the police by either calling 999 (in an emergency) or 101.
You can report hate crime online at True Vision (report-it.org.uk). True Vision also contains helpful information and guidance materials on disability hate crime and COVID-19.
Disability Hate Crime Toolkit
We are pleased to provide a toolkit about Disability on our website - please follow the link: https://www.ourwatch.org.uk/crime-prevention/crime-prevention-advice/disability-hate-crime
We ask you all to share this information with your members and communities and remember that we need to be kind, respectful and compassionate.