stack of blue surgical masks. IDEAS does information so you can do life.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, wearing a face mask is now mandatory or strongly recommended in some situations and some places. However, in some situations, wearing a face mask will not be appropriate for people with some disabilities, physical or mental health conditions. 

Adaptations and alternatives should be considered whenever possible to increase the feasibility of wearing a cloth face covering or to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading if it is not possible to wear one. If you can wear a mask, you should. If you can't, don't panic. Even in places where wearing face masks is mandatory, there are exceptions or lawful reasons not to wear one. 

Most states and Territories have mask-wearing mandates from 28 June 2021 due to an outbreak of the Delta variant of COVID-19. Check your local government restrictions for the most up to date information. 


Skip to: Choose understanding | State exemptions | Clinical reasons | Autism 

Choose understanding not judgement

IDEAS is encouraging people to choose understanding, not judgement if they see people not wearing masks. It is not always obvious why a person might be exempt from wearing a mask but it is usually due to a sensitive issue like trauma, a sensory disorder, mental or health condition or disability. 

Please remember not everyone can wear a mask safely, including some people with a disability. The law says that this is okay.

Exemptions for wearing a mask


Skip to: NSW | QueenslandVictoria 

New South Wales

You must wear a face mask in all indoor non-residential premises in NSW and outside when you are near other people from outside your household. 

You must also carry a face mask with you at all times if you are in the local government areas that make up Greater Sydney including the Blue Mountains, Central Coast, Wollongong and Shellharbour.

Lawful reasons for not wearing a face mask

The public health order includes a number of lawful reasons for not wearing a mask.

You are not required to wear a mask if you have a physical or mental health illness or condition, or disability, that makes wearing a mask unsuitable. For example, if you have a skin condition, an intellectual disability, autism or trauma, you are not required to wear a mask.

Please be respectful to people who are not wearing a mask as the reasons for not wearing a mask are not always visible or obvious. 

Proof of exemption for not wearing a mask

If you cannot wear a face mask because of a disability, physical or mental health illness or condition, you must carry a medical certificate or letter signed by a registered health practitioner (such as a doctor) or a registered NDIS provider or a statutory declaration.

Proof of exemption and identity

If you are in a situation where masks are mandatory, a regulatory officer can ask you to confirm the lawful reason you are not wearing a face mask.

If asked by a police officer, you must show them either a medical certificate or letter from the health practitioner or NDIS provider or a statutory declaration.

You must also carry and produce evidence of your name and address to a police officer if requested.

A statutory declaration will require you to identify your disability, physical or mental health illness or condition and declare you have the physical or mental health illness or condition or disability and the physical or mental health illness or condition, or disability makes wearing a fitted face-covering unsuitable.

Penalty notices

Officers can issue a penalty notice if you clearly refuse to wear a mask without a lawful reason.

Visit NSW Face mask rules for more information on face mask rules.

Queensland

If you are:

  • in a locked-down area, or
  • have been in a South East Queensland locked down area at any time since 1 am AEST 29 June, unless 14 days have passed since you were there; or
  • reside in the same household as a person who has been in a locked-down area at any time from 1 am AEST 31 July 2021

You must carry a face mask with you at all times. You must wear a face mask at all times when you are outside your home, unless:

  • you are alone in your car or with the members of your household
  • you are eating or drinking
  • you are participating in strenuous exercise
  • it is unsafe.

Masks must be worn in any indoor workplace even where social distancing is possible.

All staff at childcare facilities and schools are required to wear masks at all times. This includes face-to-face teaching. A mask should only be removed when communicating with a child, student or person who is deaf or hard of hearing, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication. In this situation, a face shield should be worn instead.

All students who go to high school also need to wear masks. For schools that have Prep to grade 12, any student in grade 7 and above are required to wear a mask at all times even if the grade 7 student is under 12 years of age.

Students in Prep and from grade 1 up to and including grade 6 are not required to wear a mask.

There are some other exceptions to wearing face masks, including for children under 12 (unless they are at school in Grade 7) and people with particular medical conditions or disabilities. If in doubt, wear a face mask.

If you are not in a locked-down area, you only need to wear a mask in certain situations where social distancing is limited or not possible, such as in airports or on domestic flights. Queensland Health recommends everyone else in Queensland should keep a mask with them so that if you are in a situation where you may not be able to maintain physical distancing, you have some added protection.

Victoria

A face mask is not required to be worn in some circumstances including for:

  • Infants and children under the age of 12 years. 
  • Students at primary school or after school hours care at a primary school. 
  • Persons who have a physical or mental health illness or condition, or disability, which makes wearing a face-covering unsuitable, including persons with obstructed breathing, a serious skin condition of the face, an intellectual disability, a mental health condition or persons who have experienced trauma. 
  • The person is at premises that are their ordinary place of residence or their temporary place of residence. 
  • The person is visiting a person with whom they are in an intimate personal relationship. 
  • Persons communicating with those who are deaf or hard of hearing and visibility of the mouth is essential for communication. 
  • Persons for whom the nature of their work or education means that wearing a face mask creates a risk to health and safety. 
  • Persons for whom the nature of their work or education means that clear enunciation or visibility of their mouth is essential. This includes teaching, lecturing or broadcasting. 
  • The person is working by themselves in an enclosed indoor space such as an office unless and until another person enters that space. 
  • The person is working by themselves in an outdoor space, provided no other person is also in the outdoor space (except a person who ordinarily resides at the same premises with them).  
  • When asked to remove the face mask to ascertain identity. For instance, where you are asked by police, security, bank or post office staff to remove a face mask to ascertain identity. 
  • The person is one of two persons being married while in the process of being married. 
  • The person is a professional sportsperson when training or competing. 
  • Persons who are engaged in any strenuous physical exercise such as running, jogging, swimming or cycling. 
  • The person is riding a bicycle or motorcycle. 
  • The person is undergoing dental or medical care or treatment to the extent that such care or treatment requires no face mask be worn. 
  • The person is smoking or vaping (including e-cigarettes) while stationary. 
  • The person is consuming food, drink or medicine. 
  • Persons receiving or providing a service from a facility that is permitted to operate under the Restricted Activity Directions (Victoria), to the extent that it is not reasonably practicable to receive or provide that service while wearing a face mask (for example, beard trimmings) 
  • If required or authorised by law. 
  • The person is travelling in a vehicle by themselves or with members of their household. 
  • The person is a prisoner in a prison, subject to any policies of that prison. 
  • The person is detained in a remand centre, youth residential centre or youth justice centre, subject to any policies of that centre. 
  • The person is escaping harm or the risk of harm, including harm relating to family violence or violence of another person. 
  • For emergency purposes. 
  • Where not doing so is not safe in all the circumstances. 

People with lawful excuses for not wearing a face mask should still keep at least 1.5 metres apart from others, practice regular hand hygiene by washing or sanitising hands frequently, continue to comply with the Directions currently in force, and get tested if unwell (even with mild symptoms). 

I have a medical condition that prevents me from wearing a face mask, do I need a medical certificate stating I don’t need to wear a face mask?

In NSW, yes you must provide evidence from a doctor in the form of a letter or medical certificate. Elsewhere, you do not need a medical certificate stating that you have a lawful reason for not wearing a face mask. If you have a lawful reason for not wearing a face mask, you do not need to apply for an exemption or permit.

If you are stopped by police in a setting where face masks are mandatory, they will ask you to confirm the lawful reason you are not wearing a face mask.

Do people with a disability have to wear a face mask?

Yes, people with a disability must wear a face mask in settings where it is mandatory unless the person has a physical or mental health illness or condition, or disability, which makes wearing a face mask unsuitable (for instance, due to medical, physical, communication or other individual risk factors).

I have a lawful exception for not wearing a face mask – can I wear a face shield or other face-covering?

You can choose to wear a face shield on its own if you have a lawful reason for not wearing a face mask. Other types of coverings, including specially designed face coverings, can be worn by people who have a lawful exception to provide a level of protection against COVID-19 transmission

What about people who have experienced trauma that makes it difficult for them to wear a face mask?

Some people who have past experiences of trauma are unable to wear a face mask due to psychological impacts. This is a lawful reason not to wear a face mask. You do not need to carry or produce evidence proving that you are eligible for this exception, except in NSW. where you will need evidence from a GP or Statutory Declaration.

Can I take my face mask off if someone I am communicating with can’t hear me?

You can remove your face mask if you are communicating with a person who is deaf or hard of hearing and the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication.

You should maintain physical distancing of at least 1.5 metres and if you need to cough or sneeze, do so into a tissue or your elbow.


Disability and Wearing Face Masks - COVID-19


Clinical reasons not to wear masks

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, cloth face coverings should not be worn by:

  • Children younger than 2 years old
  • Anyone who has trouble breathing
  • Anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the cloth face-covering without assistance

The below information is directly taken from the Centres for Disease Prevention and Control Info sheet, click here for the full article.

  • People who are deaf or hard of hearing—or those who care for or interact with a person who is hearing impaired—may be unable to wear cloth face coverings if they rely on lipreading to communicate. In this situation, consider using a clear face covering. If a clear face covering isn’t available, consider whether you can use written communication, use closed captioning, or decrease background noise to make communication possible while wearing a cloth face covering that blocks your lips.
  • Some people, such as people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental health conditions or other sensory sensitivities, may have challenges wearing a cloth face covering. They should consult with their healthcare provider for advice about wearing cloth face coverings.
  • Younger children (e.g., preschool or early primary-aged) aged 12 years and below are not required to wear a mask in most states and territories. Some children may be unable to wear a cloth face-covering properly, particularly for an extended period of time. Wearing of cloth face coverings may be prioritised at times when it is difficult to maintain a distance of 6 feet from others (e.g., during carpool drop off or pick up, or when standing in line at school). Ensuring proper cloth face-covering size and fit and providing children with frequent reminders and education on the importance and proper wear of cloth face coverings may help address these issues.
  • People should not wear cloth face coverings while engaged in activities that may cause the cloth face covering to become wet, like when swimming at the beach or pool. A wet cloth face covering may make it difficult to breathe. For activities like swimming, it is particularly important to maintain physical distance from others when in the water.
  • People who are engaged in high-intensity activities, like running, may not be able to wear a cloth face covering if it causes difficulty breathing. If unable to wear a cloth face covering, consider conducting the activity in a location with greater ventilation and air exchange (for instance, outdoors versus indoors) and where it is possible to maintain physical distance from others.
  • People who work in a setting where cloth face coverings may increase the risk of heat-related illness or cause safety concerns due to the introduction of a hazard (for instance, straps getting caught in machinery) may consult with occupational safety and health professionals to determine the appropriate face covering for their setting. Outdoor workers may prioritise the use of cloth face coverings when in close contact with other people, like during group travel or shift meetings, and remove face coverings when social distancing is possible.

Cloth face coverings are a critical preventive measure and are most essential in times when social distancing is difficult. If cloth face coverings cannot be used, make sure to take other measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread, including social distancing, frequent hand washing, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces.

Above taken from COVID-19: Considerations for Wearing Cloth Face Coverings 

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and masks

Harvard Medical Publishing has some tips around Helping people with autism spectrum disorder manage masks and COVID-19 tests. It outlines challenges and suggestions for what to do in each situation.

IDEAS has heard of parents helping children work with their sensory needs, by offering fabric masks in materials or colours/ designs that the children enjoy. 


IDEAS does information so you can do life.