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Paralympic swimmer denied entry into Canadian bookstore for not wearing mask — which she can't put on herself since she was born without hands


Believe it or not, Elisabeth Walker-Young went to bookstore after learning that a boy with autism was denied entry for not wearing a mask

Elisabeth Walker-Young (Image source: Twitter video screenshot via @CDNParalympics)

A Canadian Paralympic swimmer — who was born without hands and cannot put on COVID-19 masks without assistance — said she was denied entry into a bookstore because she wasn't wearing a mask.

What are the details?

Elisabeth Walker-Young — a four-time Paralympic swimmer who lives in North Vancouver — told Global News she had spoken to the mother of a boy with autism who cannot wear a mask and was denied entry into Indigo's Metrotown location in Burnaby late last month.

With that, Walker-Young told the outlet she decided to visit the bookstore's Broadway and Granville location in Vancouver.

While Walker-Young has some fingers at the end of her arms, she told Global News that putting on a mask herself is out of the question: "When I am out with my daughter or my husband, they will help me put on a mask. But when I am out in the world independently, I just can't do it."

She told the outlet she also was denied entry to the bookstore.

"It's just not fair," Walker-Young told Global News. "I am not an anti-masker. I actually don't go out often because I am trying not to make people feel uncomfortable, which is an awful way to navigate the world."

What about the boy with autism denied entry into bookstore?

The outlet said Tina Chiao of Vancouver filed a human rights complaint after she and her son, who has autism, were denied entry at an Indigo store because he cannot wear a mask.

Andrew, 12, also has a sensory processing disorder, Global News said, adding that wearing personal protective equipment of any kind — including non-medical masks or face shields — results in significant behavioral issues.

Chiao told the outlet she issued the staff a note from her son's pediatrician but was told they would need to shop online or arrange for curbside pickup.

"He doesn't read or write. He doesn't have the ability to use a computer. He doesn't understand the concept of online shopping," she told Global News in regard to Andrew. "It was really unfortunate and made us very angry about the situation."

More from the outlet:

As of Nov. 19, British Columbians are required to wear a mask in all indoor, public spaces to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, with exemptions for people who can't wear one because of physical, psychological, behavioral or health conditions.

Masks are encouraged for children aged 2 to 11, but are required for those aged 12 and up.

"We have been in other public settings, grocery stores, transit — and everyone has been really accommodating of Andrew's extra needs," Chiao noted to Global News. "I think people with disabilities are being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and you have a group of people who are already excluded, and now they are being further excluded."

What did the bookstore have to say?

Indigo told the outlet via email that it's sticking by its policy of stopping people without masks from entering stores even if they are exempt.

"In making the decision to update our mask policy, we've been mindful of our legal obligations, especially those relating to customer human rights. At Indigo, we deeply respect the rights and distinct needs of each of our customers," the email said, according to Global News. "While we understand that access to our store may be more limited during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are dedicated to serving our customers and are confident that the reasonable accommodations we offer can ensure your continued access to Indigo's services and products."

Anything else?

Indigo announced in October that it was changing its policy to allow for mask exemptions in Quebec stores after a mother and her 8-year-old son — who has autism and is unable to wear a mask — were denied entry, the outlet said.

Quebec's provincial regulations state that children under the age of 10 don't have to wear masks, Global News said — and neither do those with special needs, including autism.

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