Claims some disabled people are being denied access to supermarkets without a face covering have been described as “utterly appalling”.
Chains including Morrison’s, Tesco and Sainsbury’s are now stopping people from entering their stores without a face covering, unless they have a medical exemption from doing so, while the latter two are also telling people they should shop alone.
However, according to one Scotland-wide support charity, that’s led to some disabled people finding themselves in a position where they are unable to purchase essential supplies.
Disability Equality Scotland has received an “influx” in calls and messages during the past week from “distressed members of the public who are being refused entry to supermarkets for not wearing a face covering, despite being exempt due to their disability or health condition”.
The charity claims that a number of supermarkets recently announced they would ban people without face coverings from their stores, regardless of the Scottish Government guidance, which states that there are situations where some people are unable to wear a face covering.
Disability Equality Scotland chief executive Morven Brooks says she is “utterly appalled” by some of the examples which have been reported by disabled shoppers exempt from covering their faces, in a “deeply concerning” rise in complaints since the rules were strengthened UK-wide last week.
In one such instance, they claim an elderly person was refused entry to their local supermarket for not wearing a face covering, despite staff having previously recognised that they were exempt due to their disability.
Ms Brooks is pleading for those exempt from wearing face coverings to be accepted without fear of recrimination.
She said: “I am utterly appalled by the shocking messages we have received from disabled people over the past week, as a direct response to the change in stance from supermarkets regarding face covering exemptions.
“I would like to remind retailers and the public to be respectful of circumstances when people cannot wear a face covering. Staff can simply approach people to ask if they can wear a face covering and if they are exempt, this should be accepted.”
‘People shouldn’t be made to feel unwelcome or turned away if they can’t reasonably shop alone’
Enforcement of the face coverings rule lies with Police Scotland, though since stepping up efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus during the ongoing lockdown, supermarkets, including Sainsbury’s and Tesco have been asking staff or security to challenge those not wearing coverings.
This latest plea from Disability Equality Scotland follows a similar one made last week by Age Scotland concerning elderly people who cannot shop alone and are reliant on help when navigating the aisles.
The charity’s head of policy Adam Stachura called for the elderly and disabled to be made welcome.
He said: “While supermarkets are now asking for people to visit stores and shop alone, it is important that they recognise large numbers of people who are older, have mobility issues or a disability loss may very well need support to shop from a carer or family member in their bubble.
“For many people with sight loss, navigating one-way systems and maintaining physical distancing in store has been difficult when shopping alone and it may have been hard to get the help from shop staff as a result.
“People shouldn’t be made to feel unwelcome or turned away if they can’t reasonably shop alone.”
Shoppers have been required by law to wear a face covering in shops since October, and anyone medically unable to do so should carry an exemption card, which is available by calling 0800 1216240 or visiting www.exempt.scot