[Editor's note, Dec.15, 7:41pm: Tower Transit has responded to Mothership’s queries and clarified that according to the CCTV footage, the driver did not shout, but was instead "projecting his voice" while seeking advice from the operations control centre.
It added that the bus driver did not ask the pair to leave the bus, and spoke matter-of-factly to the helper.
However, it acknowledged that he could have used a more compassionate tone.
Tower Transit would like to reiterate its apology for the inconvenience and embarrassment this has caused Phyllis’s son and helper. They have also “acted immediately" to remind all its bus captains that passengers with special needs, those with proof of relevant medical conditions and children under 6 are exempt from wearing face masks on the bus.]
Unable to wear a mask, a 22-year-old man with Down Syndrome was told to get off a bus.
This was despite his helper explaining to the bus driver that her ward was unable to do so due to medical reasons.
Unable to wear a mask
His mother, who wanted to be known only as Phyllis, told Mothership that this was "not the first time".
Her son, Li Xi, is unable to wear a mask as his ears are deformed.
He also has autistic traits and dislikes wearing things in general, Phyllis added.
"Even when he was prescribed a pair of glasses, he would break it into half and throw it away," she said.
"So a mask...no way," she added. "We tried, he'd pull it off."
To allow him to commute, she got a letter from his MINDS training centre explaining his condition.
Bus driver shouted, was "sarcastic"
While most bus drivers have been sympathetic, Li Xin and his helper were met with a less-than-understanding driver on Dec. 12.
"So my helper goes up the bus, and [the driver] says, wear mask," Phyllis said. "And she tried to explain that he can't wear a mask."
"But he says, no, you have to put on your mask. So she shows him the letter on her phone.
"But he says no no no, don't understand."
Unable to speak Mandarin, the helper showed the letter to a female passenger, who helped to translate it.
But the driver continued to raise his voice at her and spoke in a "sarcastic" manner.
"He said, 'you got to go down, I cannot tahan already, cannot tahan.'"
"What do you mean you cannot tahan? What can't you stand?" Phyllis asked.
"[My helper] was almost in tears...and my son was obviously very disturbed as well, because he was shouting at him and my helper."
Finally, after about three stops, the helper decided to get off and take another bus instead.
As she disembarked from the bus, the passenger who had translated told the helper: "Because of you, everybody else was held up."
"People are so unforgiving," she added.
Tower Transit apologised
She has since lodged a report with Tower Transit, which apologised for the driver's "ignorance and lack of courtesy" and offered a token of apology.
According to an email to Phyllis, shared with Mothership, Tower Transit explained that the bus driver was being "extra careful" as it has not been easy for the drivers to ensure passengers to wear their masks when they board the bus.
It also attributed the incident to the driver's lack of familiarity with the document, and said it has taken immediate action to remind frontline staff to be mindful of such passengers.
Call for better awareness
This is not the first time such an incident has happened, Phyllis said.
This is despite the fact that Li Xi is nonverbal, wears a card and lanyard by SG Enable, and has the "Down's look".
Still, she does not intend to stop her son from taking public transport as he enjoys bus and train rides.
Instead, Phyllis called for steps to be taken to prevent such an incident from reoccurring.
For instance, she suggested that drivers receive training on how to handle special needs commuters, as they do with the handicapped.
She also suggested that government introduce a logo or an icon that can be worn by commuters who have medical reasons for not wearing a mask.
Ultimately, Phyllis just hopes that there will be more understanding and awareness of the special needs community.
"I'm really so tired of this," she said.
"They are not protected, no one speaks up for them. [But] I need people to know...I need this to be corrected."
Mothership has contacted Tower Transit for comment.
Top photo via Tower Transit/FB and courtesy of Phyllis.