22 Oct 2021

Advocate wants end to mask exemption cards as disabled people confronted

9:14 pm on 22 October 2021

A Christchurch woman says judgement and stigma over entering shops without a mask is making her anxiety - caused by incidents of childhood trauma - even worse.

No caption

file photo Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Jody Devine said she ended up in a loud and embarrassing confrontation with a security guard at a Christchurch supermarket when the guard demanded to know why she had an exemption card.

Devine said she wanted the public to realise that most people not wearing masks have legitimate reasons.

She said childhood trauma has left her with PTSD, prone to panic attacks and a tick when stressed.

She said when she entered the Wainoni Pak'N'Save earlier this month she showed the first security guard her mask exemption card, but when she was in the store a second security guard asked for her card and for proof that she was eligible for it.

She said being questioned by security staff over personal painful memories was extremely stressful, and she reacted angrily to the questions.

Devine said when she was grabbed by the security guard she may have struck out at him, but said the whole incident was a blur to her.

She said she wants stores, and the public, to treat people who can't wear masks with compassion, and not assume they are not wearing a mask for a political reason.

She was close to tears as she explained that even just showing the exemption card triggers memories of her traumatic past.

"It's awful. Every time I'm having to enter a store I'm having to show this card which reminds me of what happened. Every time I enter a store and I'm having to show that card I'm constantly reminded of what happened to me as child, and I already struggle with that."

She said she has also had other incidents in which people have made rude comments to her, and given her dirty looks for being maskless.

"It's not only the way people look at me. It's how I feel. That I'm a leper and that I'm bad for not wearing a mask when I can't physically can't wear a mask."

She has lodged a complaint with the police alleging assault by the security guard, but is yet to hear back from them.

Disabled Person Assembly New Zealand chief excutive Prudence Walker said Jody's experience reflects a situation which many disabled people who can't wear masks are facing up and down the country.

She said they have had numerous complaints about people not having exemption card accepted, and Wainoni Pak'N'Save is one location which frequently complained about.

Walker said under the Health Act people who can not wear a mask do not have to do so, and they aren't required to provide any further proof.

She said people are not legally obliged to show an exemption card, and certainly don't need to provide any further proof of their disability.

"I would like to see an environment where we don't have the exemption cards, and people don't have to justify themselves and be threatened and reveal really personal information about that."

Pak'N'Save Wainoni directed any response to the Foodstuffs head office.

The spokesperson for Foodstuffs says they dispute Devine's version of events.

Foodstuffs New Zealand corporate affairs head Antoinette Laird said when the customer visited the Pak'n'Save Wainoni store she did not provide her mask exemption at the entrance of the store, and when asked for this, became both verbally and physically abusive, pushing her way into the store.

She said after a further outburst in the store, the customer was asked to leave.

Laird said abuse of any kind is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in any of the stores.

She said they appreciate some customers can't wear masks while they're shopping, and when this is the case, customers are politely requested to provide their mask exemption documentation at every visit.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs