Mum's fury as autistic and asthmatic son refused entry to Apple store without face covering

Connor and mum Clair pictured together after their shopping trip to intu MetroCentre.Connor and mum Clair pictured together after their shopping trip to intu MetroCentre.
Connor and mum Clair pictured together after their shopping trip to intu MetroCentre.

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A mum has spoken of her anger after her teenage son was refused entry to a shop because he wasn’t wearing a face covering – despite being medically exempt from their use.

Clair Defty was at intu MetroCentre, Gateshead, where she had an appointment at the Apple store for phone repair.

She attended with teenage sons Connor, 17, and Kieran, 19, and her son’s girlfriend.

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After lining up and giving their contact details to staff, Clair and her children were told that Connor, who attends the North East Centre for Autism Aycliffe School, would not be allowed in the shop without a face covering.

Connor wearing his sunflower lanyard.Connor wearing his sunflower lanyard.
Connor wearing his sunflower lanyard.

The teenager has autism, learning disabilities, asthma, sensory processing disorder and an autoimmune disorder.

He also had a second exemption card with him, which was provided by his school to users of the North East Autism Society (NEAS).

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Clair, of Cheviot Place, Peterlee, said her son was refused entry both by the store’s security guard and the duty manager on the grounds that Apple’s policy is for everyone to wear face coverings in its stores.

“I have had to fight for everything for him and I felt very upset and angry that my son was turned away,” she continued.

"What if someone like Connor had come to the store on their own and they had no support? How would they have felt being turned away?”

Clair, also mum to 10-year-old Jack, attended the appointment alone while her sons waited outside.

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On entering the shop, shoppers were provided with access to hand sanitiser stations and had their temperatures checked. There were posters on the walls advising of coronavirus symptoms.

Clair continued: “The process of following social distancing and taking temperatures were really good, but how they acted towards people with disabilities – I really don’t agree with it.

"They should have made reasonable adjustments to allow me and my family to go in. People with autism, learning difficulties, asthma etc are exempt from wearing face masks.

"They should have put something in place.”

The Government set out a list of exemptions for wearing face coverings, including for those with disabilities, hidden health conditions and breathing problems.

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People are not required to prove they are exempt but can carry an exemption card if they choose.

Justin Tomlinson, Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, urged the public and businesses to be ‘mindful’ of people who are exempt from using a covering and ‘act sensitively’ towards them.

Clair contacted Apple, intu MetroCentre and the North East Autism Society following her experience, as well as seeking legal advice.

The mum said she was later contacted by the store’s lead manager, who said the branch could make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to allow Connor to shop with them – but that these would not be rolled out further.

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In a statement to customers in May, Apple said it would be taking ‘additional’ steps in reopening its stores globally – including a requirement for all shoppers and staff to wear face coverings.

Apple was contacted for comment.

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