A shocking video has captured train passenger hurling abuse at a teenage girl for removing her face mask – to speak to her disabled sister.
Sixteen-year-old Saule Pakenaite was travelling with sister Karolina, 24, from Liverpool Central to Southport when they were challenged by another passenger.
The woman is captured angrily berating the pair and refusing to believe Karolina’s disabilities – despite Saule’s tears and the guide dog sitting right by their feet.
Disability rights groups highlighted what happened next as new face mask rules bring fears grow people unable to wear coverings will encounter shaming in public.
From today face coverings must be worn in shops and supermarkets in England in order to slow the spread of the killer coronavirus.
The rule already covers public transport. But official exemption cards have had to be issued for people who can’t wear masks due to disabilities or other medical reasons, after fears were raised they could face confrontations or be barred from transport or shops.
Karolina has Usher Syndrome which affects her sight and hearing, and is legally ‘deafblind’.
She was not wearing a mask as she travelled on July 16, as she is not required to under law.
Government guidance states that people providing support to disabled people who may rely on lip reading, facial expressions and clear sound for communication, are exempt from wearing masks too.
But Saule was wearing one on the train anyway, and it was when she lifted the mask temporarily so Karolina could read her lips that another passenger started laying into the sisters.
A distressing video clip recorded on the train captures the passenger sitting opposite them doubting the sisters’ explanation, as she starts castigating the pair.
In the video, Saule can be heard telling the disbelieving passenger: “She’s got Usher syndrome, google it.”
Karolina adds: “Look what this is. A guide dog.”
The woman replies: “I understand, right. You’re taking the piss, you.”
“Thank you so much,” Saule tells her, as the woman hits back sarcastically: “You’re welcome.”
The woman pauses, but then continues laying into the pair, gesturing angrily at them.
She says: “I was sat there. I watched you like that, your mask. You got to wear the mask.”
Karolina tells her that her sister is actually wearing a face covering despite being legally entitled not to: “She can even not wear the mask, but she’s still wearing a mask.”
The passenger continues to challenge the woman, doubting Karolina’s diagnosis as deaf.
“You’re talking to me,” she shouts.
Saule shouts back: “Have some awareness and google it.”
Karolina adds: “I am hard of hearing – if you want to be specific – and visually impaired, if you want to be more specific.”
“You just told me she is ‘deaf blind’,” the woman replies angrily.
The sisters continue to try to explain that it is a legal term – that both deafness and blindness are on a spectrum- and it does not always mean people cannot hear or see completely.
When the woman won’t leave them be, they try to explain that Karolina lip reads to communicate with people – but she isn’t having it.
The woman continues arguing and frustrated Saule, sounding tearful, cries: “What do you want?”
The passenger replies: “You know exactly what I’m on about.”
Another passenger begins to intervene, urging: “Don’t worry about it.”
Saule tells the woman she is attention-seeking.
“No I am not looking for attention, love,” she tells the sisters.
Saule replies, with emotion straining her voice: “I’ve had enough. Don’t talk to me.”
But the passenger won’t stop: “‘Deafblind’ my arse,” she says.
“Are you kidding me,” Saule cries. “Do you know what she goes through.”
Another passenger can be heard trying to soothe the group.
The angry passenger shouts at the sisters: “Err, I do, because my son goes through it but he’s not ‘deafblind’. My son is deaf. Not blind.”
She then repeats her doubts that Karolina is actually deaf because she’s speaking to her.
The confrontation then erupts into shouting again, as Saule repeats: “it’s a spectrum!.”
The male passenger can then be heard intervening again.
“That’s enough! Stop, stop,” he says.
He tells them he understands both parties are offended and need to move on.
Karolina points out her guide dog again, telling him: “look what I have.”
“I understand,” he tells her.
A rise in reports of hostility from members of the public towards disabled people for not wearing face coverings, has led to the government issuing the mask “exemption card.”
Disability charities have called on the Government to do more to promote public awareness on who is exempt from the new ruling, to protect vulnerable groups.
Karolina said: “I can no longer stay silent about this as I keep experiencing attacks and hearing similar experiences from others too. It’s taking an effect on my mental health.
“Not enough people are taking this pandemic seriously but this behaviour is never acceptable.
“Please, respect people individually, ask us, listen, discuss and I am always happy to hear ideas for alternative solutions, but harassment, name calling or any type of abuse or aggression will never be ok.”
Richard Kramer, Chief Executive, of disability charity, Sense, which is supporting Karolina and highlighted the shocking incident, said: “Sadly, this isn’t an isolated incident. We are hearing lots of reports of disabled people, and those supporting them, being challenged for not covering up.
“These experiences cause distress and anxiety, and lead many disabled people to feel they have to stay at home, where they become isolated.
“We welcome the government’s introduction of ‘exemption cards’, but more must be done to raise public awareness of who is exempt from wearing face coverings, so the public are on board and disabled people feel supported.”
Guide Dogs director of operations Pete Osborne,said: “We are so sorry that Karolina and her sister had to go through this distressing incident. No one with a disability should have to experience this kind of abuse.
“The new environment is difficult enough for people with sight loss and other disabilities to negotiate, so we really need everyone to understand the challenges people are facing every day.
Such distressing incidents can result in people feeling they can’t go out at all, adding to the real isolation people with disabilities experience.”
Southport MP Damien Moore added he was “extremely disappointed” by the “very unpleasant” incident.
He urged Brits to research official mask wearing exemptions, and to practise compassion toward other members of the public.
Mr Moore said: “Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, we have all had to get used to new ways of life and new ways of doing things. As we do so I would urge everyone to show kindness, tolerance, patience and understanding towards others.”
Read more HERE about who does not have to wearing face coverings in shops and on public transport, and how to get an official exemption card.