Due to the increased face mask restrictions, some people report increased discomfort in public places. There are people who are not able to wear a mask for medical reasons, and have received official dispensation from a professional. Not all of the reasons for receiving these exceptions will be visible or clear to others. Some people who have received professional permission to NOT wear a mask share that they feel harassed by others for doing so. This includes but is not limited to: dirty looks, indirect snide comments, repeatedly being asked to put on a mask, even when they share they have a dispensation and then being asked why, and/or asked to prove it, or engaged in lengthy conversations about mask usage requirements.

As non-native Swiss residents, we have all faced barriers to using public services and been in situations where we felt misunderstood or judged for something beyond of our control. We ask you to take this into consideration and use this awareness to inform your reactions.

Our role as the general public is to encourage support of the guidelines, however, not to fall in the role of police-ing one another. Keep in mind that people given dispensation often already have significant restrictions on their lives, and faced stresses and barriers to navigating public spaces before COVID. Many may also even be more at risk to COVID. So when they make the choice to be in the public space without mask, it is not a decision taken lightly and often done for an important reason. So, please respect others who do not wear a face mask, if you do not know their story. We as a community can act in a respectful fashion, while of course taking responsibility for our own safety.

To help provide clarity in this areas, the Federal Office has published guidelines 18.1.2021 which include the following:

“The COVID-19 Special Situation Ordinance contains a number of exceptions to the requirement to wear a face mask. For example, children under the age of 12 are exempted from wearing a mask, as are persons who can prove that they are unable to wear face masks for compelling reasons, in particular medical reasons (Art. 3a para. 1 let. B, Art. 3b para. 2 let. b, Art. 3c para. 3 and Art. 10 para. 1bis let. c). There are many circumstances in which certain people cannot wear a face mask for health or disability reasons; it is not possible to list them all here. Here are some of the principle exceptions:

  • people who cannot put the mask on and take it off by themselves for physical reasons (e.g. people with paralysis, cerebral palsy or missing limbs);
  • people with autism who, for example, cannot wear a mask because they panic;
  • people with a mental or psychological disability or people with dementia who are unable to understand that they need to wear a mask;
  • people with diseases involving a risk of suffocation;
  • people with a hearing impairment who depend on lip-reading, for whom masks are a communication barrier that can lead to misunderstandings. In this case, staff or accompanying persons may remove their mask while communicating. If available, a mask with a transparent window may be used in these

People with dispensation are obviously requested to respect others, and maintain the distance and hygienic guidelines as best as possible in the situation. The factsheet continues to say:

The purpose of this exception is to prevent people who are exempt from wearing a face mask for health or disability reasons from being denied access to publicly accessible establishments or services, and to prevent them from being unduly discriminated against. Operators of publicly accessible establishments and services are required to adapt their protective measures to take into account persons who cannot wear a mask.

The ordinance ends with a call for understanding: “For some people with disabilities wearing a mask is a severe hindrance to their daily life. The ordinance in force thus contains some appropriate and reasonable exceptions to requirement. We ask everyone to show solidarity and understanding. “

Let us try to be clear, understanding and respectful as we navigate these difficult times. It is important to be able to have social dialogue about difficult topics without public judgement and shaming. We are all struggling to meet the needs of our diverse community and no one solution is appropriate for all.

Quoted from: Factsheet_dispensation_for_wearing_a_mask_for_certain_people_with_disabilities (1)

Published by the:
Federal Department of Home Affairs FDHA
Federal Office of Public Health FOPH
General Secretariat GS-FDHA
Federal Bureau for the Equality of People with Disabilities FBED