22nd July 2020
Face coverings, or face masks, can make it difficult for those who block when they stammer to talk, easily hold conversations and be understood, so we've been looking at the law.
Because of Covid-19, each UK nation has laws on when and where you are required to wear a face covering. But some of you have been reporting problems:
I thought, how would people know if I'm struggling behind a mask?
I have noticed that if my children wear a mask and are stammering, it is very difficult for the other person to see that they are trying to speak and they then interrupt.
(Quotes taken from our Facebook support group)
If you are using a costal breathing technique, wearing a mask might also make it difficult to take a deep costal breath.
We had a go at summarising the law on face coverings, but frankly it is a minefield. To keep up to date with the latest coronavirus laws and guidance, see the websites for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Exemptions and reasonable excuses
Have a look at Allan Tyrer's website stammeringlaw.org.uk, where he looks at what might be considered reasonable excuses for not wearing a face covering in England. There are exemptions and again, these vary between the nations, so our best advice is to look at the guidance direct and godspeed.
If you want to claim an exemption and need evidence of your disability, you can buy a card and lanyard from hiddendisabilities.com. You can also download an exemption card from Transport for London which you can print off or show on your phone. Check your local travel operator's website for similar cards.
Download our 'I stammer' cards
We have created a card which you can download to your smartphone or device to let people know that you stammer and need more time to speak. Click here to download a card.
Clear face coverings
If you need the listener to see your mouth when talking, try one of these clear, transparent face masks, which are available online. They have a clear mouth panel, so you are less likely to be interrupted when you are visibly blocking. See here for a list of websites where you can buy them.
In the workplace
I find that my voice is muffled, which causes me to speak louder or repeat myself before my co-workers hear me. Whenever I have to speak louder, I tend to stutter more.
Read James' article 'My speech during the Covid-19 pandemic'
There are guidelines for employers about how to keep staff safe (again, these vary between nations). If your employer wants you to wear a face covering but you find this makes communication difficult, discuss what 'reasonable adjustments' they can make to your job to make things easier. A stammer can be considered a disability under the Equality Act 2010, or under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in Northern Ireland, so employers are obliged to make adjustments where reasonable. So, if your stammer interferes with your day-to-day activities when wearing a face covering, you could ask your employer to, for example:
- provide a plastic visor, or face shield, that covers your whole face, or
- allow you to make telephone calls somewhere else, away from other people in a more socially distanced way.
The age at which children are exempt from face coverings varies. In England it is children under 11; in Scotland it's children under 5 and in Northern Ireland children under 13 are exempt. At the moment in Wales it isn't compulsory for anyone to wear a face covering but that's expected to change soon.
We recommend wearing a face covering if you can't socially distance to stop the spread of Covid-19 and keep you and others safe. But if you are finding it difficult to communicate, try a clear face mask or download an exemption card to indicate that you aren't wearing one because of your disability. Keep up to date with the latest guidelines for each nation using the links above.
If you need someone to talk to about this, call our helpline on 0808 800 802 or use our Webchat, open weekdays 10am-12noon or 6pm-8pm.