Masks with a clear window, like the pictured Rafi Nova mask, make it easier for deaf and hard of hearing people to communicate. (Courtesy of the Independence Center)
For people who communicate in part by reading lips, the face masks worn to reduce coronavirus transmission become a challenge.
Advocates for the deaf and hard of hearing community encourage people to wear masks with a transparent window. But those masks can be more difficult to find than standard varieties.
The Independence Center — a Colorado Springs nonprofit that first started promoting the masks for use in health offices before the pandemic began — now offers a solution. The nonprofit recently received a grant from the Pikes Peak Community Foundation allowing it to purchase and distribute accessible face coverings.
People can request free, accessible masks online at the Independence Center’s website. They can be shipped for free or picked up at the nonprofit’s location on Feb. 18 or 19. The Independence Center is working with limited quantities, so each person who requests masks will receive up to either two or three — depending on whether they select the Rafi Nova cloth mask or an FDA-approved disposable mask.
Another resource for people interested in purchasing accessible face masks is the directory available at accessiblemasks.org, which lists vendors selling masks with clear windows.
More companies are jumping on board to make accessible masks. Ford Motor Co. is planning to mass-produce clear face coverings with levels of filtration seen in the medical-grade N95 masks, the Washington Post reported Feb. 9.
More generally, the Independence Center also advises people that communication should be a “joint effort” shared by both deaf and hard of hearing people, as well as hearing people. The nonprofit released a list of tips for communicating with deaf and hard of hearing people during the pandemic:
• “Be patient and understand that masks cause increased stress and anxiety for those who are d/Deaf and hard of hearing.”
• Ask whether someone prefers to communicate through lip reading, sign language or written text. “Speech-to-text apps and/or pen and paper are good options for those who prefer written text. Avoid physical contact when choosing this communication method.”
• “To aid those who rely on lip reading, wear a clear or transparent mask or face shield that shows the mouth.”
• “Maintain eye contact when you are communicating with a d/Deaf or hard of hearing individual. This is an important visual cue that signals that you are engaged in the conversation.”
• “Face the individual while speaking and speak clearly.” Don’t shout, because this distorts sound.
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