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Mask mandate exceptions: What people with disabilities want you to know

There are some people trying to find a way around wearing a mask in public by claiming disability, something that is upsetting to those with very real ailments.

TOLEDO, Ohio — Payton Joseph is 13 years old and has autism. Although it was initially uncomfortable and scary, he is now getting used to wearing a mask.

"Masks are kind of uncomfortable, on the sides they squeeze your ears, and they're uncomfortable and they stretch," Payton said.

Payton's mom, Brittany, said her son has been struggling with the changes this pandemic has created, specifically when it comes to face coverings.

"He is doing really great with them now, so masks are really difficult for individuals with disabilities to wear because of some of the sensory sensitivities they do have," Brittany said.

Certain types of fabrics are tough for Payton to wear. He and his mom practiced at home so he'd be ready when it came time to go out in public.

"If you do see someone out in public that's not wearing a mask, just be aware they could have an invisible disability like autism," Brittany said.

Unfortunately, there are some people trying to find a way around wearing a mask in public. An attorney with the Ability Center of Greater Toledo says people are getting fake ADA cards to show businesses so they can be exempt from mask mandates.

"We've seen reports that people are buying ADA cards off the internet," said Katherine Hunt Thomas, a disability rights attorney with the Ability Center.

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Additionally, while some restaurants may claim they cannot ask someone about a certain disability, it is not a violation of HIPAA for them to ask you why you are not wearing a mask. The Americans with Disabilities Act states any business open to the public must make reasonable modifications of policies, such as a restaurant offering curbside pickup. 

But HIPAA does not tie back to anything related to local restaurants or businesses. 

"It does not because there's no relationship between the restaurant and the patient," UTMC Dr. David Sohn said.

With more counties now in the red level 3 zone in Ohio, some are trying to find a way around wearing a mask in public. 

The Ability Center in Toledo is making sure everyone knows that while there are exemptions to mask mandates, there is no official exemption card. Brittany hopes anyone trying to make these claims realizes how insulting that is to people who actually have a disability.

"Especially those who don't believe this is real or the masks were necessary, I certainly hope that would not happen. That would be a disgrace to the disability community," Brittany said.

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