Medical Mask Exemptions

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation based on disability. It was intended to ensure that people living with disabilities have access to all of the same opportunities as those without disabilities.


The ADA defines disability as "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual; a record of such an impairment; or being regarded as having such an impairment."

The ADA is broken into four sections:  

Title I:Employment;
Title II:State and Local Government Activities & Transportation (Airlines);
Title III:Public Accommodations (Private & non-profit business); and,
Title IV:Telecommunications Relay Services.

This article focuses on Title III, Public Accommodations, which are classified into one of twelve categories listed in ADA:

1.Places of lodging (e.g., inns, hotels, motels) (except for owner-occupied establishments renting fewer than six rooms);
2.Establishments serving food or drink (e.g., restaurants and bars);
3.Places of exhibition or entertainment (e.g., motion picture houses, theaters, concert halls, stadiums);
4.Places of public gathering (e.g., auditoriums, convention centers, lecture halls);
5.Sales or rental establishments (e.g., bakeries, grocery stores, hardware stores, shopping centers);
6.Service establishments (e.g., laundromats, dry-cleaners, banks, barber shops, beauty shops, travel services, shoe repair services, funeral parlors, gas stations, offices of accountants or lawyers, pharmacies, insurance offices, professional offices of health care providers, hospitals);
7.Public transportation terminals, depots, or stations (not including facilities relating to air transportation);
8.Places of public display or collection (e.g., museums, libraries, galleries);
9.Places of recreation (e.g., parks, zoos, amusement parks);
10.Places of education (e.g., nursery schools, elementary, secondary, undergraduate, or postgraduate private schools);
11.Social service center establishments (e.g., day care centers, senior citizen centers, homeless shelters, food banks, adoption agencies); and
12.Places of exercise or recreation (e.g., gymnasiums, health spas, bowling alleys, golf courses).

The Centers for Disease Control has issued guidance stating that face coverings should not be worn by “anyone who has trouble breathing” or “anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the cloth face covering without assistance.”

The Southeast ADA Center, together with Syracuse University, released a disability issues brief titled, The ADA and Face Mask Policies, which contains the following examples of persons who might not be able to wear a face mask:

Individuals with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or other respiratory disabilities may not be able to wear a face mask because of difficulty in or impaired breathing. The CDC also states that anyone who has trouble breathing should not wear a face mask.

People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), severe anxiety, or claustrophobia (an abnormal fear of being in enclosed or narrow places), may feel afraid or terrified when wearing a face mask. These individuals may not be able to stay calm or function when wearing a face mask.

Some people with autism are sensitive to touch and texture. Covering the nose and mouth with fabric can cause sensory overload, feelings of panic, and extreme anxiety.

A person who has cerebral palsy may have difficulty moving the small muscles in the hands, wrists, or fingers. Due to their limited mobility,  they may not be able to tie the strings or put the elastic loops of a face mask over the ears. This means that the individual may not be able to put on or remove a face mask without assistance.

A person who uses mouth control devices such as a sip and puff to operate a wheelchair or assistive technology, or uses their mouth or tongue to use assistive ventilators will be unable to wear a mask.

Prolonged wearing of a mouth covering may be considered harmful in certain situations. Your doctor may recommend not wearing mouth coverings for many reasons.

If you have a medical or psychological concern that makes wearing a facial covering problematic, it may be appropriate to consult your physician. If you believe that you may have a condition that qualifies, a medical exemption for wearing a mask can be obtained by your local doctor, or through the doctors AFLDS has approved to provide telemedicine care.

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