Post shielding face masks for extremely disabled passengers

I have been shielding for months due to a medical condition listed as extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 but keeping in touch with work. Over the last few months, I’ve been updated with changing company policy and watching the Government updates closely.

Workplace pay was revised in line with the Government’s change of advice for those who no longer need to be shielded. If my condition had been less severe, I’d be back to work now instead of staying safe at home.

Around the same time, TfL emailed me to say that from the 15th June face masks will be mandatory on public transport. They ought to be already based on video and photos I’ve seen. Buses will not take the usual number of passengers to allow for social distancing aboard so spaces will be limited, and people might have to wait for the next bus. Not all bus stops have seats, many disabled people can’t remain standing for long, and drivers can’t recognise hidden disabilities. Many buses are still using middle or rear doors too for driver safety.

A solution was necessary for those who return to work from Shielding and have no choice but to travel to work by public transport. Even if people had their face mask, how can the driver tell who needs to get on as a priority? How can a passenger with hidden disabilities ask for a seat while keeping their mouth covered? Taking out the blue card risks the virus getting on other cards in the wallet if germs are present in the air on the bus or other type of transport. I figured a mask in blue with the same information that’s on the blue card sent to all Freedom Pass holders who have no choice but to get public transport to work if they’re extremely vulnerable and have been shielding. TfL has the data for blue badge and card recipients, and the Government has the data for those who are extremely vulnerable and vulnerable who had to shield and register online.

So I got creative and designed a prototype that TfL could replicate with Government funding from the Secretary of State for Transport. It is the Government after all who decide when to force most vulnerable who have been staying safe back to work with the virus still around.

I proposed they produce and distribute TfL branded ‘please offer me a seat’ masks to eligible passengers who have the blue badge and card and a disabled person’s freedom pass if they have been shielding.

Some people ignore the badge, and disabled people need to request a seat from those who occupy priority seats and don’t need one. Removing a mask in an enclosed bus to ask is dangerous, given how COVID-19 spreads. Drivers will know who to prioritise if capacity is restricted as it presently is for social distancing reasons.

On behalf of the Liberal Democrats Disability Association for which I’m an Executive Member, I set up a Petition letter for this request addressed to the Secretary of State for Transport and the Deputy Mayor of London for Transport. I will be copying in a London Assembly Member who has experience in London Transport issues and innovations.

I hope you will support this petition. It’s open to all parties and none who wish to support it. It launched yesterday morning and has now got more support than I anticipated.

* Avril Coelho is a member in Richmond and Twickenham