Can’t Mask? You Can Still Protect Yourself and Others.

Scarf and Attitude

Scarf and Attitude

  Many people can’t mask for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, the rules and policies in many places don’t take people with special needs into account. Most of the time though, you can solve problems if the gate keepers know that you are considerate. Face shields are well known alternatives, but here are some others.

Pins and Signs

One way that some people show that they are aware and safety conscious is by wearing pins or other signs to remind people to keep their distance. This is good for people with invisible disabilities, people in marginalized communities who may be targeted for masking, those with sensitive skin, or who have worn masks and other PPE to the point of irritating or damage and just need a break.

Not everybody wants to broadcast their situation, and often people ignore the warnings because they are inconsiderate. So there are other ways.

Gaiters and Scarves

Before handmade masks were easily available, most people got by with gaiters, scarves, and bandanas. Their advantage is that they can be raised and lowered quickly. You don’t have to fiddle around a lot. Just be aware that not all neck gaiters are protective. Some can be worse than nothing because they can aerosolize droplets if you cough or sneeze. So if you’re using one made of stretchy material, you’ll need a filter insert or a shield folded in for it to be effective.

If you feel comfortable with it, a sanitary napkin (usually a thin “ultra” or panty shield is the best) inside the scarf can add an extra layer of protection and you can more easily feel where to aim when putting it over your face. By the way, giving proper respect to the inventors of this technique, an unknown mom who had to take care of relatives with Ebola in the DRC came up with this. So from there, the idea for added filters and filter pockets in handmade masks arose.

A pad has adhesive though, so it can be used even in a scarf or mask with no pocket. Just remember the adhesive side is plastic, so trim it so it’s just filtering and absorbing, not stifling your breathing.

Hairspray Shields

Those shields that hair stylists use to protect people’s face from hairspray or keep water out of kids’ eyes during shampooing can also be a handy barrier. You can keep one in your bag or attached on your gear and then use it when you are talking to people or find yourself in close quarters with no escape.

I don’t understand why every pub and restaurant operating during a pandemic or just flu season doesn’t have these printed with their logo and hand them out. It’s a perfect solution for places where people are eating or drinking and therefore can’t mask the whole time.

Hand Fans

Same as a hairspray shield, a fan may not be perfect protection, but it is at least usually a decent spatter guard. If you know a sneeze is coming or you’ll need to talk to someone, whip out a fan.

Some may find this a bit too feminine for their taste, but in many places, men also carry fans. Find one printed for your favorite sports team. Then you can fan while you fan.

Face Sized Notebooks

I don’t know if there are any printed with distancing warning, but you can always put your own on it. Like the spray shield or fan, it’s a handy barrier that you don’t have to constantly wear. Have it in your bag for when it’s needed.


Many of us already use a cane or crutches because of quite visible disabilities, but there are sometimes judgy people who don’t think we might be dealing with multiple issues. It may be a bit threatening for some to get away with in certain situations, but I have found a cane to be an excellent distancing reminder.

First off, nobody wants your full weight compressed to two and a half square centimeters on their foot. Generally it helps them to understand to step back and give you some room.  Depending how you manage it, you can use it to set a nice boundary.

If you don’t need a cane for walking, you may consider carrying one anyway if you can’t mask. It has been used as a fashion accessory in times when and places where the streets were not so clear of debris. During a pandemic, it is also useful for opening doors and navigating places without having to touch anything.

Just be aware that a cane can be perceived as a weapon, so whatever is going on, your threat level has risen. Be smart about it, and avoid waving or gesturing with it in a way that could appear to be menacing unless you have to for self defense. The best way to use it to guide distancing is not to lift it but to set the base down far enough away from you. People will rarely cross that line. If they do, turning with the base still close to or dragging the ground will get the message across.

Back OFF!

If you don’t have a shyness issue, then feel free to use the good old yelling technique. Sometimes people are inconsiderate and forgetful, so in this case it’s okay to get loud. You can use people’s ableism to your advantage by manipulating their perception of “crazy”.

In a perfect world, belting out, “Back off! 2 meters!” would just simply remind people, but we do not live in a perfect world. If you get mean and loud about it, they will not want to be around you. In a time when people being around you can kill you, then the cost benefit analysis should land in favor of your life over other people’s comfort.

Everybody should do what it takes to survive and thrive.

Blessings and Ashé!


My pronouns are whatever you're comfortable with as long as you speak to me with respect. I'm an Afruikan and Iswa refugee living in Canaan. That's African American expat in Israel in Normalian. I build websites, make art, and assist people in exercising their spirituality. I'm also the king of an ile, Baalat Teva, a group of African spirituality adherents here. Feel free to contact me if you are in need of my services or just want to chat.

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  • You’ve read the article, now get the t-shirt! :-D