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Window masks help deaf and hard of hearing community communicate

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As many of us have been wearing masks for protection during the Coronavirus pandemic, those who are deaf or have hearing loss are facing new challenges when communicating.

The Deaf and Hard of Hearing community rely heavily on reading lips while communicating, and as regular masks cover at least half of your face, it’s nearly impossible for them to read lips while people wear the masks.

“I mean without accessibility were more frustrated, everyone is. We tend to freak out. We become more isolated. So many negative things. So if we help each other to be safe, it’s one good solution is to have this mask,” Elizabeth Whelpdale who is deaf and works for the Hearing Speech + Deaf Center said. “You being able to see me is wonderful. Me not being able to see you is hard. Being able to see the positive and negative comments, the up and down of the eyebrows, it’s very important, but it doesn’t show the full communication. If I can’t see if your frowning or smiling or something like that it’s very difficult.”

“The first time we started wearing masks even the people who were hearing on our staff, they would say something and they would ask us to repeat and I think that was the first time most of us realized that we all look at peoples expressions, their mouth when they speak, and we don’t just use the one sense of hearing, we use the sense of sight as well when we’re communicating with people,” J.B. Boothe, CEO of Hearing Speech and Deaf Center said.

To help combat the communication barrier, the Hearing Speech and Deaf Center in Cincinnati started making masks that have a clear window over the mouth, which allows for folks to read lip patterns and see more facial expressions while still being protected.

When wearing the window masks, they recommend choosing a bold, contrasting color that will stand out against your skin tone to make your mouth pop, which will make it easier for them to read lips.

If you don’t have a window mask, there are still ways to help fix the communication barrier.

For starters, face the person you’re speaking to and make sure to keep eye contact.

Don’t be afraid to use a smartphone to type a message, or even draw a picture.

You can also consider taking the mask down (of course being socially distant) for one or two words and make those words super short.

But one of the most critical points to remember—is keep trying.

“It’s really important and it’s key to be patient with each other. It’s a double struggle for us compared to a person who can hear,” Whelpdale said.

Whelpdale says there are about 58,000 thousand people in Cincinnati with hearing loss, ranging from mild hearing loss to those completely deaf.

“It would be a wonderful world if everyone would wear the window mask because we don’t know how much longer we’re going to need to cover our faces,” Boothe said.

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If you’d like to get a mask with a window, you can email for more information. They are asking for a small donation.

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