The need to wear facemasks in public during the coronavirus pandemic established a new normal for people around the world. But it also created a new challenge for the hearing impaired.
During curbside treatments, Dr. Sheri Mello, an audiologist in Raleigh, North Carolina, discovered that her patients were really struggling to hear because of street noise and the face coverings of her staff.
“The covered masks cut down the volume level by 10 decibels,” Mello told CNN. “And that’s a lot. You’re cutting a quarter of the volume.”
After seeing a pattern for a face covering with a clear portion around the mouth posted in a nationwide Facebook group, Mello reached out to her clientele at Raleigh Hearing and Tinnitus Center and asked if anybody knew how to sew.
“I got 10 responses from the email blast and in just a few days I got dropped off about 30 masks,” she said. “I was so impressed with that.”
The wife of one of her longtime patients is a nurse who had been furloughed and was the first person to drop off some of the clear masks.
“She didn’t want any money,” Mello said. “Everybody just donated these masks.”
Grocery stores and other public places were already difficult for the hearing impaired because of the amount of background noise, Mello said. Once you add face coverings, it makes communication feel impossible.
“Just for anybody, not just the hearing impaired, you have to see emotion, you have to see facial expressions,” she said. “And with these covered masks, it kind of takes away all of that facial expression that comes with communicating.”
After handing them out for free, a lot of Mello’s patients are now using the masks with loved ones. The loved one wears the clear mask so the patient can read the lips.
Doug Dieter, one of Mello’s patients with a hearing impairment, told CNN affiliate WRAL it can be difficult to relate to hearing loss.
“You don’t realize the struggles sometimes that somebody might have in understanding what you’re saying,” he said.
Mello said her patients wished news reporters would wear the clear masks as well, because television is especially difficult for the hearing impaired, even with hearing aids. A first-grade teacher recently reached out to get the pattern too, expressing her struggles with teaching young children how to read or helping them learn English as a second language.
After so much positive feedback from her patients, she’s already put out another call to her helpers to get more masks made.
“As a community, we’re all working together,” she said.
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