Audiologist & Owner of Audiology Services & Hearing Aid Center
America continues to fight COVID-19, and the top weapons in this fight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are cloth face coverings. Be it a simple bandana fashioned to cover the nose and mouth, a non-medical mask, or a surgical grade model, the CDC says cloth face coverings may slow virus spread and help people who may have the virus – but don’t know it – from transmitting it to others.
Important guidelines, for sure; but what if you are one of the 60 million people in the U.S. with hearing loss? And keep in mind that the vast majority of those 60 million have never had a hearing test.
Those same masks can create communication problems for the hard-of-hearing, making it difficult to understand clear speech. Sound levels decrease with distance and many face coverings dampen sound. Masks provide those with hearing loss no visible lips to read or facial expressions to interpret. That problem compounds when facing the challenge of putting on a mask over hearing aids or cochlear implants, which is uncomfortable and can force the removal of assistive devices.
What Can Be Done?
An emerging solution to the problem are masks that have clear plastic or acrylic elements that cover the mouth, instead of solid cloth. Some of these masks are medical grade, but many are constructed in line with standards set by the CDC for masks that can be worn in public spaces.
Audiologist, Mandi Solat, AuD, has researched masks that may help people with hearing loss communicate more effectively in public situations and with health care professionals. As someone with hearing loss, Dr. Solat understands first hand the need for such solutions. Some of these masks cost more than standard cloth masks, but the investment can make a big difference in the way people with hearing loss interact with the world. Below is a curated list of masks ranging from zero to about $60. Mandi also recommends a low-cost accessory that helps ensure mask enclosures don’t interfere with hearing aids or glasses and ensure that hearing devices will not be detached accidentally.
Janice McCubbin was inspired to make masks for the hearing impaired by her daughter, who is deaf and expecting her first child soon. She could only imagine what her daughter might go through without being able to read lips or communicate well while she was in a hospital about to give birth. Janice makes each mask, which are 100% cotton with a vinyl window, by hand. She provides them on a first come-first serve basis and shipping is $3/mask. Each mask is made from fabrics that have unique patterns, including flowers or cats and dogs.
The maker of the Humanity Mask is Rapid Response PPE based in Juneau, Alaska. The Humanity Mask has a full, clear shield made of acrylic that doesn’t obscure the face. It allows people to see the user’s mouth, which facilitates better communication. There is also a cloth swatch that attaches to the bottom of the shield to prevent droplets from making contact with other people. It is easily adjustable on the head with the assistance of Velcro and provides glasses wearers plenty of space and ample breathing room. Treating the mask with a light film of dish detergent helps to prevent fogging.
Made of two layers of 100% cotton sateen helps these masks stay soft while still being a tightly-woven cotton. A clear vinyl window allows people to see lips. A looped tie helps fit the side of the mask to face shapes to limit gaping on the sides and reduce interference with ear devices, hearing aids, or glasses. This mask is washable and reusable.
These custom, handmade facemasks that are washable and reusable are designed for the deaf, speech therapists and audiologists to read lips. Masks are secured using 1/4″ – 3/8″ elastic that goes around the head and neck to minimize ear strain and eliminate interference with hearing aids and implants. Each mask is made with cotton blend fabric and a rigid plastic window designed to rest away from the face.
The makers of InstaShield say it is a comfortable and affordable way to help protect people. The design also discourages face touching. InstaShield easily fits over the bill of a baseball-style cap and surrounds the face for wide-ranging coverage. The company has issued a “Million-Shield Challenge” for which it will donate a shield to an essential worker or senior for every one purchased on its website. This face shield allows visibility of face and lip movements; it can be reused indefinitely, doesn’t significantly muffle speech as cloth masks may.
For those with hearing loss who rely on the ability to lip read, ADCO’s Communication Window Mask has a clear vinyl material that allows a person’s mouth to be visible at all times. The mask is white but comes in five accent colors and two accent patterns (daisy and blue brush strokes). The manufacturer, which is based in Colorado, says the mask ensures safety standard protocols. The mask has elastic ear loops for comfort and ease of use, and is machine washable. The company also sells a mask care kit that includes a mask washing bag (for safe machine washing), a 7-ounce bottle of dish soap, plus instructions on how to it can be used to decrease, if not eliminate, fogging in the window mask, and 280 wipes, used in the defogging process. A portion of each mask purchase is used to help provide free masks to nonprofit organizations across the country
A transparent mask with full-face visibility that is optimized for comfort and breathability, and provides assured protection. It has an anti-fogging, see-through protective shield and is available in two different strap styles: the EZ-Adjuster has straps that go over the head and can be easily adjusted with an adjuster piece for a more personalized fit, which avoids discomfort and strain on ears. The Tie-On Style has straps that mimic the strap design of traditional masks, that are placed behind the ears to the back of the head and neck, and are tied securely with bows. The Clear Mask is for single-use only. It is designed for indoor settings and recommended for use at room temperature, in ventilated, low-humidity environments. It is not recommended for use outdoors.
Demand for this mask is high and the manufacturer is currently prioritizing The Clear Mask is for single-use only. It is designed for indoor settings and recommended for use at room temperature, in ventilated, low-humidity environments. It is not recommended for use outdoors.
Demand for this mask is high and the manufacturer is currently prioritizing hospitals, healthcare institutions, and essential workers, and making the masks available only in bulk orders. Be sure to check back frequently for updates on distribution plans on non-bulk quantities.
Discmakers of Pennsauken, NJ, a long-time manufacturer of CDs, has turned its attention to making the Amerishield, which is a clear protective face shield billed as “affordable protection for healthcare, sanitation, industrial, and food service professionals.” The shield provides basic protection from droplets and spray, and can be wiped clean for safe reuse. The shield is an ultra-thin laminate that is flexible to wrap around the contours of the forehead and protecting the front and sides of the face. The latex-free “hook and loop” strap can be adjusted for comfort and the adjustable strap sits on a person’s forehead.
The Communicator is a mask primarily intended for use by medical practitioners as it is an FDA-registered device that meets high surgical mask standards. It has a fog-resistant clear window for improved communication and is useful for doctors, nurses, dentists, hygienists, orthodontists, interpreters, and other health professionals who seek easier communication and top-notch protection against germs and viruses.
Demand for this mask is currently so high that it is on back order until July or August. Be sure to check back frequently for production updates.
Etsy is an e-commerce website that provides vendors of handmade or vintage items and craft supplies personal storefronts. There are many vendors who sell handmade masks with vinyl windows in a variety of fabrics, colors, and patterns. Many storefronts also offer ear savers/extenders – small devices that make the elastic extensions of masks that loop around the backs of ears more comfortable and help keep hearing aids in place during mask fitting and removal. Many store owners also custom make masks.
This lightweight flexible band attaches to a mask to keep it off the ears but not off the face. That helps to avoid ear soreness due to all-day mask wear. It can also keep hearing aids from falling off. Different colors, large quantities and custom designs may be available upon request.
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Dr. Mandi Solat
“Being an Audiologist is a calling. I am passionate about what I do because hearing loss has had a profound effect on my life. Any life changed through the gift of hearing is a personal success.”
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