ADA accomodations for patrons who cannot wear face masks

Since the onset of the pandemic, it has been agreed upon by the majority of health professionals that wearing a mask has a dramatic impact on stopping the spread of the virus. As a result of this the Library Board has issued guidance stating masks must be properly worn inside the library.

There has been quite a bit of misinformation and confusion about exemptions from wearing a mask for those who claim to have a medical condition that prevents them from doing so. While no government order or policy discusses what happens when someone claims this exemption, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) addresses what organizations must do.

Under the ADA, it is illegal to discriminate against a person because of a disability. Anyone who provides a service must make "reasonable accommodations" to ensure that someone with a disability has access to those same services. Importantly, there is no requirement for the organization to do something unreasonable to accommodate the individual, and there is no requirement that the service look the same, as long as the outcome is the same.

For the library, a "Reasonable Accommodation" for someone who is unable to wear a mask in the building could be any of the following:

  • Allow them to utilize curbside pick up to get items
  • Allow them to provide a list of items to a staff member who will pick out and deliver the items outside
  • Allow them to use the wifi outside of the library to access the internet
  • Allow them to contact a librarian via telephone or online to seek reference help
  • Allow them the option to have services such as copying or faxing performed outside of the library

Some accommodations that could be reasonable depending on staffing and environment would be:

  • Allow the person to schedule an appointment to use the library at a time when it is not open to the public. (i.e. they need to use a computer and don't have access anywhere else, they could come in before opening to use a computer)
  • Allow the person to have access to a confined room in the library where no one else will be present.
  • Allow the person to wear a face shield or some other kind of face covering if it meets the safety requirements of the library.

These accommodations could be reasonable if in order to accomplish them they did not substantially burden the library or its employees or create an unreasonable risk.

Some accommodations that would not be considered reasonable would be:

  • Allow the person to use the library without any precautions or masks.
  • Force all other patrons to leave so that the person unable to wear a mask can use the library.

These accommodations would not be reasonable because they either create a substantial burden for the library or pose a health or safety risk to employees and patrons.

Should you have any questions regarding reasonable accommodations or the ADA more broadly, please do not hesitate to contact the library at 920-748-6160.