WAUWATOSA — People wearing masks have become a common sight during the coronavirus pandemic, but for one group of people, those masks are making life harder.
The deaf and hard of hearing community relies on being able to read lips and see facial expressions to communicate with people. The PPE that so many wear prohibits any lip-reading, which puts people with hearing impairments in a tricky position. Do they ask you to politely remove your masks or continue the conversation while never being sure of what is being said?
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There is a solution—masks with clear mouth coverings.
A Wauwatosa woman is making special masks for the hard of hearing and deaf community, so they can read lips and facial expressions. pic.twitter.com/N35w6P4XbZ— James Groh (@JamesGroh_) April 28, 2020
Vicki Spiering has been sewing together these unique masks for the hearing impaired community in her Wauwatosa home for the past week or two. Since then, Spiering has made about 60 masks with roughly 40 in the works. She plans on donating them to HEAR Wisconsin, which helps the hearing impaired community overcome communication obstacles.
The idea didn't come organically to Spiering. Her neighbor, Liz Baish, who is also hard of hearing, asked her if she could make such a mask. After a bit of troubleshooting, the two came up with a final product.
Baish didn't just see the need for these types of masks. She experienced it.
"I asked one of my daughters to come with me, so they can help me and listen. So I feel like I'm losing my independence because I have to rely on my daughters to come with me to the grocery store."
She said that people's voices are muffled and unclear when speaking through the mask. Baish also works at HEAR Wisconsin, so she sees the need for it by the dozens every day.
While this might not solve communication issues at the drive-thru, it's a measure that goes a long way. When the hard of hearing or deaf individuals come to HEAR Wisconsin, they will be able to speak with their audiologists and healthcare staff uninhibitedly. It's something that both staff and patients appreciate.
"It's so much easier to communicate with people when they can actually see me and what I'm saying," Kristine Bayer, an audiologist at HEAR Wisconsin."
In a time where communication is more critical than ever, these masks provide a vital tool for the hearing impaired community to stay connected with what is going on around them.