Deaf and Hard of Hearing Staff Campaign for Special Masks for Students

cloth face mask with clear vinyl front

May 05, 2020

Grant Wood Area Education Agency Deaf and Hard of Hearing staff are mobilizing to help support the communication needs of their students.

“Utilizing facial features including reading lips and communicating through sign language has become more difficult with state and federal officials recommending that people wear masks in public,” commented Deaf and Hard of Hearing Teacher Kim Lestina. “We want our students and families to follow these guidelines and we want our students to continue being safe at home right now, but as restrictions are lifted we’re hoping to help our students by reducing the language barrier created by wearing face masks.”

Lestina reached out to request a facemask upon the recommendation of a Parent and then received permission and the tutorial from a college student who is studying education for the deaf and hard of hearing to replicate a mask design she created. This design includes a clear vinyl space that allows an individual’s mouth to be seen.  With a little help from the seamstress skills of Lestina’s cousin, Sheryl Traetow, the facemask design was duplicated.

Kim points out that facial expression is a critical component of sign language, and expressions are hard to understand when masks are used.   “Facial expressions are important while communicating for both speakers and speaking partners.  There is a great amount of meaning obtained from the face and that is lost with a mask covering more than half of your face,” she explained. Additionally, as deaf and hard of hearing children are supported at home and they are just learning to speak and read lips, they often are coached by an adult to ‘match my mouth’, a strategy that can’t be used if a mask is worn.  “Whether a child is a visual or auditory communicator, these facial features and the ability to read lips is important,” she said.

 In anticipation of those children re-entering the public, these specially designed masks can help them communicate with their families. “Having masks available that allow the deaf and hard of hearing community to communicate will be increasingly important. Our hope is to help families follow the mask recommendations offered by public health while reducing our students’ language barriers with the adults in our students’ lives- specifically their parents, their grandparents, and even their siblings,” Lestina adds.

The AEA is asking individuals in the community to help replicate the mask design and send them to the AEA to distribute to its students. Grant Wood AEA has more than 200 students receiving deaf and hard of hearing services in its seven county area, and is soliciting masks for those students, their families, as well as other students in its programs that may benefit from these special masks.

Individuals who would like to help can send completed masks in a closed plastic bag or box and mail them to Grant Wood AEA, Attn: Facemasks, 4401 6th St SW, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 52404. Masks will be laundered before they’re redistributed first to area deaf and hard of hearing families. Extra masks will be made available through HACAP food pantry for deaf and hard of hearing members of the public.

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