As Texas begins to crack down on people not wearing masks, people with disabilities find themselves in a difficult position: endanger their own health by wearing a mask or risk being refused service for not wearing one.
Under Governor Abbott's executive order mandating face coverings, "any person with a medical condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering" is exempt from wearing one.
However, James Jensen says he was refused service for not wearing a mask to the Dollar General in Lorena on July 3, despite providing documentation showing he was exempt under the governor's order.
"It's incredibly frustrating because it's not just here," Jensen said. "It's happened almost everywhere. Everywhere I walk in, it's "Where is your mask?" And then I have to explain that actually I'm disabled. I'm exempt from that."
For Jensen and several other veterans, wearing a face mask can be detrimental, despite the fact his disability is not readily visible to others.
"They're gonna have problems with this because they're immediately met with an attitude and grouped into deniers or someone that just doesn't want to comply," Jensen said. "And that is not always the case."
According to ADA representatives, people living with a wide range of disabilities can be hurt by masks.
Beyond those with respiratory diseases, people with autism could experience sensory overload, and individuals with PTSD could experience high anxiety as a result of wearing a mask.
Those struggling with claustrophobia can also experience panic attacks.
That is why, when employees refused to serve him even after providing documentation, Jensen was concerned.
"I think one of the failures for this order is there was no preparation or training for the businesses," Jensen said.
Under the Southeast ADA Center, businesses must consider reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. Some examples include:
- Allow a person to wear a scarf, loose face covering, or full face shield instead of a face mask;
- Allow customers to order online with curbside pick-up or no-contact delivery in a timely manner;
- Allow customers to order by phone with curb-side pick-up or no-contact delivery in a timely manner;
- Allow a person to wait in a car for an appointment and enter the building when called or texted; or
- Offer appointments by telephone or video calls.
They do not need to provide a modification if that modification would "change the nature of the service," result in an "undue financial or administrative burden" or pose a "direct threat to the health or safety of others."
If an individual with a disability is confronted by police about not wearing a mask, Waco PD says they should simply explain the situation to officers.
"Just be honest with them and tell them you are exempt for this reason, and that's really the only thing we need to know," Ofc. Garen Bynum said.
Despite the safeguards in place, local governments across Central Texas say if you can wear a mask, you must.