Face Coverings and Disability Q&A

Notice of face covering ordinance in the window of a pharmacy.

To help slow the spread of COVID-19, our state is requiring everybody age 5 and older to wear a face covering in public. (Ages 3-5 are encouraged if possible.)

This applies to:

  • Any indoor public setting (like stores, clinics, offices, buses).
  • Outdoors, if unable to maintain 6 feet of physical distance from others.

Why is this happening?

The virus is new, and there is no vaccine. It spreads from person to person when we speak, sing, shout, cough and sneeze. The only way to limit its spread is to keep physical distance, wash hands, and wear a face covering.

Face Coverings Include cloth masks, scarves and bandanas.

Icon images depicting a person wearing a mask, scarf and bandana.

Where are face coverings are NOT required?

You do not need to wear a face covering at home with people in your household, or when you are alone in your car.

You do not need to wear one when seated at a restaurant eating, or when you are outdoors and people are far apart.

Walk up window at a drive thru espresso stand.

How do I get what I need if I can’t wear a mask because of a disability?

Having a disability does not guarantee access to public businesses and recreation if it can’t be done safely. A business can refuse to let people enter the physical building if they are not wearing a face covering, but they can provide accommodations, such as:

  • delivery
  • curbside pick up
  • outside service or activities with distancing

Curbside pick up signs outside a restaurant.

What is Curbside Pick Up?

It means picking up an order on the sidewalk, curb or other outside area. Usually, the customer orders and pays over the phone first. The business will give instructions on when and where to pick up.


Call ahead to talk to the person in charge. Let them know you (your child, or the person you support) are not able to wear a mask. It may take some creative solutions to ensure that you can get what you need and be included in activities.

Example: If your favorite restaurant is only offering drive-thru service and you don’t drive, call ahead to ask if they allow walk-up orders. Some will do this. Others won’t.

Keep six feet distance (or more) from other people. Most businesses will have stickers or X marks on the sidewalk to let you know where to stand or sit.

Help businesses understand that people with disabilities are paying customers worth keeping. A lot of businesses still need education about how to make their goods and services accessible. Work with them to find solutions so that you both get what you need.

Notice of face covering requirement outside a grocery store.

I’m afraid to go into stores. People are shaming and attacking about masks.

Face coverings are an emotionally charged topic. People get heated about wearing them and not wearing them. Going out in public without a face covering is especially hard on those with invisible disabilities.

If a business or customer confronts you:

  • Stay calm.
  • Keep a six foot distance (about two shopping carts long).
  • Say what you need. State that you are not able to wear a mask and need help to shop.

When stores and restaurants are asked to serve someone without a face covering, the question should be Do you have an exemption? (Not Do you have a disability?)

You do not need to prove your disability. There is no such thing as a “mask exemption card” for being in public without a face covering.

What if I can’t wear a mask and need to go back to work or school?

Work: If you are not able to wear a mask, talk to your employer about alternative ways to get your work done, such as:

  • working from home;
  • changing your schedule in order to work alone;
  • working in a separate area with a barrier to help prevent airborne spread of the virus.

School: Have a discussion about risks to the student and recommendations for how to accommodate those risks. The school environment should be geared toward preventing all students from infection and exposure to the virus.

Sitting place for disabled people in waiting hall, comfortable service, care

Information and Assistance

Independent Living Centers (ILC)
ILCs provide services and advocacy by and for persons with all types of disabilities. Five locations serving the state of Washington. Visit the Washington Independent Living Center website for the ILC nearest you.

NW ADA Center
The NW ADA Center assists businesses, state and local governments, and people with disabilities as they work to make our communities accessible and disability friendly.

  • Phone: 425-248-2480 (V)
  • Videophone: 425-233-8913**
  • Email: nwadactr@uw.edu (link sends e-mail)

NW Justice Project
The NW Justice Project provides legal assistance to eligible low-income families and individuals needing help with civil (non-criminal) legal problems in Washington state.

Call the CLEAR Hotline (Coordinated Legal Education, Advice and Referral), a toll-free legal hotline for people with low incomes:

  • Outside of King County, call 1-888-201-1014 weekdays, between 9:15 am – 12:15 pm.
  • In King County call 2-1-1, weekdays 8:00 am – 6:00 pm, for a referral to a legal aid provider.
  • Seniors (age 60 and over) can also call CLEAR*Sr at 1-888-387-7111 (statewide).


This handout is a collaboration of Self Advocates in Leadership (SAIL), Allies in Advocacy, The Arc Washington State, and Informing Families.

Face Coverings Q&A for People with Disabilities (pdf)
Thumbnail image of handout on face coverings Q&A.


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