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Since the start of the pandemic, several countries have made wearing a face mask mandatory. However, there is a lack of clarity around exemption of face mask usage for persons with disabilities. This not only leaves disabled people vulnerable to the virus, but also prevents their caregivers or loved ones from finding a viable solution to protect their needs.

At the same time, wearing a face mask may present a challenge for some people with disabilities who are, for example, individuals with developmental or intellectual disabilities, including autistic people, people who cannot independently put on or take off a mask, people with lung diseases or breathing difficulties, people who experience panic attacks while wearing masks, and people who are Deaf and hard of hearing.

Before you contemplate, as a caregiver or loved one of someone with a disability whether they have to wear a face mask, consult your doctor on the requirements, merits, and suggestions on how to go about it. 

And if they, or you decide for their safety, that they should wear a mask, there are several face masks in the market already that provide a solution to some form of disability. MEO Air face masks are designed for daily living. They are made from soft, lightweight materials and are created to reduce the build-up of moisture and heat. For persons who have difficulty breathing or feel anxious while wearing masks, MEO X face masks are three times more breathable than standard masks. 

Explain, demonstrate and experience masking up

As with any uncertain situation, it’s always good to explain, demonstrate and create an experience. Once you have found a mask that suits your needs and requirement, there are several ways to help your loved one cope with wearing a mask:

  1. Explain the purpose of the face mask to your loved ones and show them references or pictures of people wearing masks on the road or on television. Use visuals to explain why face masks are being used 
  2. Model the behaviour of using a face mask. If they have breathing issues while wearing a mask, model the behaviour of wearing the mask for a long time, or having a conversation while wearing the mask to show them that it is possible to breathe while wearing the mask.
  3. Let the person choose the pattern and colour of the mask 
  4. Gradually expose the person to the mask, e.g. allowing them to touch the mask without putting it on, putting the mask up to their face and then taking it off
  5. Demonstrate using the face mask on a preferred object or person, such as a stuffed animal, a doll, or a family member.
  6. Use “if-then” language. Pair the wearing of a face mask with an activity (e.g. if you are going to the store, then you wear a face mask) 
  7. Gradually expose the person to wear the face mask for longer periods of time.
  8. Discuss verbal and non-verbal reinforcement or cues in advance for wearing a mask as well as taking it off. This will give them gain a measure of confidence and control
  9. Plan initial outings in quiet and calm environments, so that the individual can experience wearing the face mask.
  10. Keep positive about any attempts to wear a face mask.

Discuss with your GP or preferred doctor for advice before helping someone with a disability wear a face mask.