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Deafblind woman and sister verbally abused for removing face covering on train

Government guidance says some disabled people and those supporting them are exempt from wearing a covering.

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Screen grab from handout footage issued by Sense of a passenger on a Merseyrail train who challenged Karolina Pakenaite, 24, who is deafblind, and her sister, Saule, 16, who has Usher’s Syndrome (Sense/PA)

Screen grab from handout footage issued by Sense of a passenger on a Merseyrail train who challenged Karolina Pakenaite, 24, who is deafblind, and her sister, Saule, 16, who has Usher’s Syndrome (Sense/PA)

Screen grab from handout footage issued by Sense of a passenger on a Merseyrail train who challenged Karolina Pakenaite, 24, who is deafblind, and her sister, Saule, 16, who has Usher’s Syndrome (Sense/PA)

A teenager was subjected to a tirade of verbal abuse after she briefly lifted her face covering on a train so her deafblind sister could read her lips.

Karolina Pakenaite, who has Usher syndrome, was travelling to Southport with her 16-year-old sister Saule and guide dog when they were confronted by another passenger.

Despite explaining that 24-year-old Ms Pakenaite’s condition meant she was both hard of hearing and visually impaired, the woman refused to accept their explanation.

Their ordeal was recorded on a mobile phone as they travelled on a Merseyrail train from Liverpool Central on July 16.

The woman can be heard in the two minute-long clip questioning whether Ms Pakenaite was really “deafblind” after she was able to respond to her comments.

“You’re taking the piss, you,” the woman tells them.

Ms Pakenaite’s younger sister later responds: “Legally she is deafblind. There’s a spectrum. Google it.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

After the passenger questioned why she had moved her mask, Ms Pakenaite’s sister said in a distressed tone: “So she could lip read me. What do you want?”

The woman goes on to say “deafblind my arse”, before another passenger intervenes.

The main symptoms of Usher syndrome are hearing loss and an eye disorder called retinitis pigmentosa, which causes night blindness and a loss of peripheral vision.

While all passengers are required to wear a face covering while on public transport, Government guidance says disabled people who cannot safely wear one are exempt.

Those who provide support to disabled people who may rely on lip reading, facial expressions and clear sound for communication, are also allowed to not wear one.

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 supportedRichard Kramer, Sense

Charities have now called on the Government to do more to promote awareness around who is exempt from the face mask rules.

Richard Kramer, chief executive of the disability charity Sense, said his organisation had received “lots” of reports of disabled people being challenged for not wearing a covering.

He said: “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.”

It comes as new rules introduced on Friday made the wearing of face coverings in supermarkets and enclosed public spaces in England mandatory.

Speaking after the incident, Ms Pakenaite 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.”

PA