Dripping Springs resident Nathan Kaspar knows his way around the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). “I grew up around it,” says Kaspar, whose mother’s sister was born blind.
He’s also a disabled veteran of the Navy with 24 years service, and has DV designated license plates, so he’s equally familiar with what that status allows him.
So it was somewhat of a surprise when, after County Judge Ruben Becerra issued an order requiring “all people” age 10 and over to wear masks in public to slow the spread of COVID-19, nobody else seemed to understand there are exemptions to that directive.
In the days after the order was issued, Kaspar, whose doctors have recommended he not wear a face mask, was denied entry to three local businesses.
“I was very rudely kicked out of there,” he said of visits to an H-E-B, Whataburger and Home Depot. “I tried to talk to them,” he told the Hays Free Press and News-Dispatch, to explain that he was exempt from the order. But nobody seemed to know about the exemptions, which he said were not mentioned on window stickers Becerra made available to local businesses.
“The problem is, in rolling out signage and press releases, they don’t say (that there are exemptions). They just say an order is issued for all citizens.”
Not satisfied, Kaspar pursued the issue with the management of all three businesses who had turned him away. A senior Whataburger official actually called to apologize and the next time he went to H-E-B the experience was much different. “I bought groceries today,” he said on July 8. “The young lady at the door asked if I needed a mask and I said, “No. Doctor’s orders.”
He even encountered resistance from the constable who regularly works meetings of the commissioner court, where he spoke during public comment on June 30. “He was telling me I couldn’t enter. I said ‘yes I can. I have an exemption.’ He said ‘there are no exemptions’ … I was furious that the constable working Commissioners Court should be so woefully ignorant.”
Moreover, Kaspar says people don’t understand that questions about an individual’s disability violates the ADA. “Having to prove an exemption is not how rights work. The way the ADA works is that you have a right to enjoy the same liberties as anyone else without having to assert that right.”
Kaspar said he feels that Becerra “owes disabled persons an apology” and “needs to rescind those stickers he put out. They’re inaccurate on their face … He created an undue burden on a gigantic class of people for no reason. The stickers don’t mention exemptions.”
He also took issue with the way Becerra’s order “deputized business owners” to enforce it, a task he said often falls to “a 16-year-old who is the lowest earning person who is put at the door.”
And there’s also the public perception “that if you’re not wearing a mask you don’t give a crap about anyone else. I and other veterans have given up a large portion of our health for other people. I should be able to buy groceries and a cheeseburger same as anyone else without getting the third degree or looked at like some menace to society.”
Although Gov. Greg Abbott’s order, which supersedes that of any county judge, clearly states that exemptions include “any person with a medical condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering,” it does not specify what those conditions might be.
According to Dr. Danielle C. Beachler, pediatric pulmonologist at Dell Children’s Medical Center, confirmed that “you absolutely cannot ask somebody” what their disability is under the ADA but added, there’s “basically no reason to not be able to wear a mask.”
She said children with sensory processing disorders and adults with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome might find face covering confusing or uncomfortable, but as a physician she would work to find an alternative.
She said that anyone with a chronic lung disorder is at a higher risk for coronavirus “and must absolutely wear a mask.”
One alternative would be a clear face shield similar to those worn by many medical professionals. “A face shield would be better than nothing, but really that’s really designed to protect the mucus membranes of the eyes. It’s still open at the bottom and would have to have some kind of drape to seal it off.