Grant expands ‘window mask’ production at Hearing Speech + Deaf Center

CINCINNATI – Cincinnati’s Hearing Speech + Deaf Center in Corryville is poised to continue bridging the gap for those who have struggled to communicate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The team of hearing and speech professionals received a $2,000 grant from the Greater Cincinnati Foundation and United Way earlier this month that will go toward producing window masks, cloth face masks with a vinyl window that lets people see your lips while you talk.

The Hearing Speech + Deaf Center offers services such as interpreting, American Sign Language interpreting, deaf advocacy, employment services, audiology and speech therapy, and occupational therapy. As the pandemic escalated, staff at the center noticed a disparity in communication due to the use of masks to protect carriers from the coronavirus.

Whitney Miller

You can get your own “window mask” from the Hearing Speech + Deaf Center by requesting one from their website (link at the end of this article).

“We rely on sign language to communicate,” said Elizabeth Whelpdale, a worker at the center who has hearing loss. “I also rely on lip reading to communicate with people.”

She said she struggled to figure out how to help her customers and stay protected from the coronavirus.

“I was so frustrated I felt like I could cry because I already have hearing loss, I already have barriers and communication issues,” she said. “Our mission here is to focus on breaking down those communication barriers, and those full-coverage masks weren’t helping at all.

Whelpdale and his colleagues quickly came up with a solution after finding a template online for a window mask.

“When a sign language person communicates with a deaf person, they should also see that person’s expression and watch their lips move as well and monitor the communication,” said Hearing Speech + Deaf Center CEO JB Boothe. .

The center began producing the masks this spring. Once the news broke, the center began receiving requests for masks from across the country.

So far, the center has manufactured and distributed over 1,000 window masks. The $2,000 grant the team received will help staff purchase more materials to continue making the masks for anyone who wants one.

“I hope people will use window masks to not only help deaf people, but people who are hard of hearing, hard of hearing, that whole spectrum,” Whelpdale said. “I know some people who don’t have hearing loss are also dependent on lip reading, so hopefully people will continue to wear these masks with windows.”

If you would like a window mask, contact the Hearing Speech + Deaf Center through their website here.

Michael A. May