Transparent masks allow deaf people to lip-read
“Normal masks hide emotions”
As face masks have become part of the new normal, deaf and hearing-impaired people are finding it difficult to communicate. Those who are hard of hearing often rely on lip-reading, body language and facial expression, which is difficult when people are wearing masks.
Thirty-three-year-old Nishen Manowar says the past few months have been very difficult for him. Manowar, who was born hearing-impaired, relies on lip reading especially when he is in public as not many people can use sign language.
Now he uses the clear plastic mask sold by the KwaZulu Natal Deaf and Blind Society to raise funds for their many programmes, and he says he finds communication much easier.
President of the KZN Blind and Deaf Society Veetha Sewkuran says the idea came about when the country moved to Level 4 of the Covid-19 lockdown. “We found that most clients found it difficult to communicate with masks on. We used face shields at first but we also needed to use masks, so after reading an article on BBC about the plastic masks, I thought it was something that we could do for our clients as well,” she says.
Sewkuran says for a hearing-impaired person wearing a mask could be a source of anxiety, stress and confusion. “Normal masks prevent them from understanding anything at all. These transparent masks allow the deaf and the hearing-impaired to lip read,” Sewkuran says.
The masks have two small holes at the bottom allowing a bit of air to come in and out so that they do not mist up. They are easy to clean.
“Normal masks hide emotions. For the deaf, many people look so angry behind a mask. I have to look at a person’s eyes to guess their expressions,” says Sewkuran. “The masks provide a bit of human contact as well. You can see people smiling and I can even put on lipstick.”
She says the response from the public has been phenomenal. The KZN Blind and Deaf Society will be providing 550 masks to two schools in Durban, the VN Naik School for the Deaf and the KwaThintwa School for the Deaf.
The masks sell for R20 and the funds go to the Society’s projects. “With these masks we are also hoping to make some money to sustain us. Most of the staff are paid by government but we had to lay off 17 staff members that were being maintained by the society, since there is nothing coming in at the moment. We are appealing to the public to please support us and purchase these masks.”
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