The global pandemic has made wearing face masks part of our new normal, but few of us considered who may be impaired by their use. The hard of hearing who rely on lip-reading and visual cues to communicate are in the dark with the standard N95, medical or reusable masks.
This is particularly of concern for the elderly, those who are deaf, hard of hearing or coping with dementia, anxiety, or mental illness. For those already struggling to understand they need facial cues to aid recognition of caregivers and to be able to understand what is going on around them.
With nose and mouth coverings, individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, or for whom English is a second language, all rely on lip movements and facial expressions to understand conversations or discussion going on around them.
“Not being able to see facial expressions with masks has always been a problem for the deaf and hard of hearing,” said Aaron Hsu, the CEO of ClearMask.
He and Allysa Dittmar, whose background is in public health and policy, co-founded ClearMasks three years ago to design one of the first transparent surgical masks with full face visibility.
“It took a pandemic for people to realise consciously and explicitly that seeing someone’s face is so important,” noted Hsu.
Consideration must always be given to having accessible alternatives that include everyone.