Our View: Anti-mask decision misuses the People with Disabilities Act

Thirty-one years ago this monthA group of disabled protesters threw down their wheelchairs and crutches and left climb the 78 steps of the western front of the Capitol and claim their rights.

Known as the Capitol Crawl, it was the culmination of a decades-long and ultimately successful effort to get Congress to pass the Disability Act. One protester, an 8-year-old with cerebral palsy, took almost an hour to get to the top.

On Monday, it took the Paris Select Board less time to humiliate the ADA and everything it stands for.

Selectmen in the city of Oxford County voted unanimously to pass a resolution against Governor Janet Mills’ executive orders on face coverings that they believe violate the Constitution and the American with Disabilities Act, the Sun Journal reported this week.

In practice, the dissolution has no effect. The residents of Paris must continue to follow the governor’s instructions. Both state and federal constitution give states the ability to protect people during a public health crisis, and the courts have maintained mask mandates as warranted during the pandemic.

For public health reasons, it is detrimental for officials at any level to spread misinformation about masks. The Paris elect are not the first either. We hope that people will now reject this nonsense and follow the facts which clearly show that face covers reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and that it is most effective when everyone is wearing one.

The real problem here, however, is how the Paris elect and others who make the same argument use people with disabilities as cover for their anti-masking policies. In this way, they mock the civil rights gained through the work of so many people.

There are legitimate reasons someone might not be able to wear a mask. While it is relatively uncommon – face coverings, especially cloth coverings, do not interfere with breathing in a biologically harmful way – some people have breathing problems that face covering can make it worse. Some people with autism have sensitivity to touch and texture that can make a mask difficult to wear.

But for these relatively few, the ADA does not say that they can enter companies and other public spaces without a mask – that would endanger others.

Instead, the law requires that reasonable accommodation be in place; For example, a company might offer roadside pickup and online ordering instead of in-store shopping.

When it comes to COVID, the biggest threat to people with disabilities is not mask mandates, but disease itself. As the executive director of Disability Rights Maine told the Sun Journal, many people with disabilities fall into risk categories. For them, masks are not an unnecessary hassle or government tyranny – they are a potential lifesaver.

Mainers with disabilities know discrimination when they see it. Three decades after the ADA was passed, unrestricted public access remains difficult. There are crowded sidewalks, blocked ramps, and doors that a wheelchair cannot enter.

A 2017 letter to the Kennebec Journal stated, “I see limitations every day without really trying.”

That is the reality for people with disabilities.

In the meantime, what the Paris Select Board is pushing forward is pure fantasy.

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