A Kelowna support worker is speaking out after a disabled individual in his care was refused services at a hair salon for not wearing a mask.
The situation opens a much wider debate about the protection of employees providing services to the public, while yet accommodating the special needs of some customers and clients.
Ross St. George is a community support worker who works and councils individuals with disabilities. He helps them receive the services they need on a daily basis, – one of those being haircuts.
On Nov. 27, St. George and the disabled individual, who has severe autism, arrived at Great Clips Hair in Kelowna and let them know the individual in his care is unable to comply with the mask order due to his physical disability.
St. George was denied service by both the manager and the branch manager. He said he was saddened by the ‘lack of empathy.’
On Nov. 9, B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry made masks mandatory in all public indoor and retail spaces, but said those unable to wear a mask for a medical or disability-related reason are exempt, and cautioned that not all people’s conditions will be visible.
Some of his client’s disabilities include motor impairments, and he is reactive to sensations like masks on his face.
“That little bit of irritation that we all feel and are able to inhibit, that individual and individuals with diagnoses like this, are unable to inhibit that desire to take the mask off.”
Great Clips franchise owner Paul Baumback pointed to their strict mask policy, and said they’re doing their best to keep everyone safe.
“We have staff members that are pretty scared right now. Just like everybody else in society,” said Baumback.
He owns seven Great Clips locations in West Kelowna, Kelowna and Vernon.
Baumback said they are working on implementing procedures to accommodate everyone, while keeping everyone safe. A meeting on Sunday, Nov. 29, with his managers, he hopes will solve this.
An international company with 4,800 salons in North America, the franchise owner said they’ve had a mandatory mask policy in place for some time. He said their businesses are facing immense uncertainty right now due to the pandemic, and some Great Clips locations in eastern Canada have already been forced to close their doors.
St. George acknowledged that the new rules are a challenge.
“Nobody likes these masks. Nobody.
“However we’re able to understand that we’re doing this for the greater good. Individuals with cognitive impairments are unable to recognize why we’re wearing masks, and are unable to inhibit their desire to rip it off their face.
“As we go through this pandemic, we need to recognize that it’s challenging to everyone in unique ways. Some individuals are challenged in much more profound ways than others. We need to be kind, be calm, and be empathetic,” said St. George.
His client was eventually able to receive service at another hair salon in Kelowna.
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