While most of us instinctively reach out for the safety of face masks when we step out, for the hearing impaired and deaf community that uses lip-reading and facial expressions to communicate, this poses a major challenge in the ongoing pandemic. Among them is 37-year-old Madan Kumar P, who works with the Government’s Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJE). The issue struck Amit Sharma, vice principal, National Institute for the Empowerment of Persons with Visual Disabilities (NIEPVD), Dehradun (under the MSJE, Government of India). Which is why, he along with his team at NIEPVD came up with transparent or clear masks in the last week of April.
What are transparent masks? Why is there a need?
While face masks are personal protective devices which, when used properly, help one to stay safe from contracting seasonal diseases, and have become the face of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, according to Sharma, a transparent sheet mask or transparent mask can help persons with hearing impairment. “There are two types of masks which are useful for various categories of persons depending upon the work environment. One is double layer cotton mask and the other is double layer cotton mask with transparent sheet. While the first is useful for members of the public such as office-going persons, security persons, sweepers among others, the second type is useful for hearing impaired persons as well as general population. The transparent sheet in the middle of the mask helps ensure that such people have no problem with lip-reading. The mask is breathable so there is no discomfort for the user,” Sharma told indianexpress.com.
Why is lip reading important for many people with hearing impairment?
As much as 70 per cent of the communication is non-verbal and a major part of it is contributed by lip-reading, stated Nachiketa Rout, director, NIEPVD. It becomes very important for children with auditory processing disorders as well as those with learning disabilities (who do not have any peripheral hearing loss and are legally not disabled) to have ample speech reading skills, which may be blocked by use of regular masks, Rout said.
Harish Soni, assistant professor, ISLRTC (Indian Sign Language Research and Training Center), New Delhi agrees that speech reading may not entirely help the deaf, but nonetheless it “supports them in understanding many words”. “This transparent mask will not only help in understanding words, but facial expressions as well, which is not the case with regular masks,” he told indianexpress.com.
What are these masks made of?
These are made of cotton and biodegradable plastic made of sugarcane fibre, which is also called bio-polypropylene. As a polymer derived from plants, bio-polypropylene is seen as an effective alternative to harmful plastics.
Who made the masks?
How many have used them?
“We have already produced 800 masks and distributed 250 masks to Uttarakhand Police. Adults with hearing loss and some pensioners of NIEPVD who are above 60 years have also received them. They have been appreciated by Dr Sunni Mathews, director, AYJ National Institute of Speech and Hearing Disorder, Mumbai. A few children with hearing impairment, too, have been using the masks,” informed Rout.
Will it be commercially available anytime soon?
While Sharma mentioned the masks are being provided to deaf and hearing impaired institutes, Rout mentioned that the project has been given for approval to the Department of Disability Affairs, MSJE, Govt of India (so that it can be up-scaled). “Without labour costs, it costs around Rs 10, and taking that into account, it is estimated at Rs 20, which is way cheaper than presently used N95 masks,” remarked Sharma.
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Some dos and don’ts while using the transparent masks, as per Sharma.
*Unfold the pleats; make sure that they are facing down.
*Place over nose, mouth and chin.
*Fit flexible nose piece over nose bridge.
*Secure with tie strings (upper string to be tied on top of head above the ears, lower string at the back of the neck.
*Ensure there are no gaps on either side of the mask, adjust to fit.
*Do not let the mask hang from the neck.
*Change the mask after six hours or as soon as they become wet.
*While removing the mask, great care must be taken not to touch the potentially infected outer surface of the mask.
*To remove mask, first untie the string below and then the string above and handle the mask using the upper strings.