Face covers are helpful in reducing the transmission of COVID-19, but they can cause communication challenges for people with hearing loss and speech problems. Fabric masks muffle voices and make lip reading impossible.
To help bridge the communication gap, staff from the College of Health Sciences are making transparent face masks for clinicians and patients at the Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic on the University of Delaware STAR Campus. The masks have a clear, plastic cover across the mouth, allowing lips and facial expressions to be visible to others.
Since the spring, about 90 masks have been made by Barbara Vogt, administrative assistant, and Rebecca Moy, a seamstress in the Innovation Health & Design Lab. Vogt, who has been sewing since she was 10 years old, found a pattern on YouTube by Sewing Seeds of Love.
“I watched all the mask videos on YouTube while on the elliptical – and there are a lot of them,” said Vogt, who also has made about 50 fabric masks for CHS staff and visitors. “Since I have a hearing issue myself, I was happy to help make window masks for the clinicians who are dealing with their hearing-impaired patients who need to be able to see their mouth when communicating with them.”
Moy, a 2019 fashion apparel design graduate, also joined the effort to help build up the supply for the Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic and the Early Learning Center. Since May, the Innovation Health & Design Lab, where Moy works as one of two seamstresses, has made more than 1,000 fabric masks for patients, community members and faculty.
Vogt and Moy plan to make about 100 clear masks for the SLH Clinic and the ELC. Moy said the clear masks take longer to make because of the extra steps needed to incorporate the transparent mouth cover as well as other details, like the adjustable ear loops.
“On a normal day, I can make 15 to 20 fabric masks. With these, it’s maybe 15 in three days,” Moy said. “It’s a lot more time-consuming.”
But the communication improvements for people with hearing and speech problems is worth the added work, said Moy, whose father has a hearing impairment and reads lips.
“This is something that makes life easier for people who have hearing problems,” she said.