Face masks have become commonplace over the last few months during the COVID-19 pandemic — so much so that many companies are making face masks in different colors, patterns and prints so that people have a creative outlet to show off their personalities, match their outfits, or just feel a little joy while doing their part to slow the spread of coronavirus.
But for many people in the deaf or hearing-impaired community, these masks present a very real challenge.
Standard surgical masks and other cloth masks cover the entire bottom half of a person’s face — including the chin, nose and mouth — cutting off the ability for people to read lips or see facial expressions, both of which are a huge part of communication for the hear-impaired. Even certain facial expressions are considered components of American Sign Language (ASL), such as nose crinkles and mouth movements.
Further, covering your mouth muffles the sound and reduces the volume level by up to a quarter depending on the type of material the face mask is made out of. If there is any background noise, such as in a grocery store or at a doctor’s office, then standard masks can prevent even someone with good hearing from understanding what is being said to them, let alone for people who are deaf or have any kind of hearing loss.
For instance, imagine being involved in a car accident and not being able to communicate with the at-fault driver, the police officer at the scene, or even the emergency personnel at the hospital. Being unable to explain what happened or communicate the injuries you were suffering from could be overwhelming and potentially dangerous.
While many hospitals have white boards or pen and paper on hand, passing these messages back and forth requires close proximity, something that is not ideal considering that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised everyone to stay at least 6 feet apart at all times.
The inability to communicate can trigger stress, anxiety, frustration, fear, and miscommunication that can lead to errors being made on the police report or medical errors in the emergency room.
Thankfully, companies around the world are recognizing the problem that these standard masks present and are beginning to come up with innovative solutions.
The Communicator™ Clear Window Surgical Mask from Safe ‘n Clear has a transparent plastic window that’s specially treated to reduce fogging while providing FDA-approved protection.
Another option is the ClearMask™, which is the first mask with a clear shield that stretches across the entire face, not just a small window over the mouth. This means that there is full-face visibility which allows deaf individuals to see the entire face, making communication easier and more natural.
Nike also created a transparent face shield out of previously existing shoe parts.
Rapid Response PPE of Juneau is producing a standard mask with a clear shield over the wearer’s mouth and another model with a clear shield over the whole face.
There are even individuals doing their part to help make these options more readily available from their own homes by making transparent masks using page protectors, vinyl shower curtains, or anything they can get their hands on as the clear portion to go over the mouth.
Clear face masks aren’t a perfect solution. For instance, there are many people in the deaf community who are unable to lip read. But in order to create a more inclusive world, it’s important for everyone to at least consider the benefits of these clear mask options.
If a hearing person were to encounter someone who is deaf, hard of hearing or elderly at the grocery store or in an emergency situation, then they would be able to communicate more effectively without risking anyone’s health.
Further, a clear mask may help everyone maintain a closer level of human connection during this difficult and unprecedented time. Seeing each other’s smiles could be just the thing we need!