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An Indonesian couple is producing an alternative face mask with a plastic viewing window to help the deaf and hard of hearing safely and effectively communicate during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. 

Faizah Badaruddin and Imam Sarosos, who are both deaf, said traditional face masks took away the ability for individuals to lip read or view the full range of facial expressions — which are vital communication tools for deaf people and those who rely on hearing aids or cochlear implants. 

The couple has so far sold over 200 masks from their workshop in Makassar, the capital city of Indonesia’s Sulawesi Island.

Badaruddin, who has lived her whole life with total hearing loss, says she and her husband are now making 20 masks a day, which then ship throughout Indonesia. 

"Thank God I started making the clear masks on April 8. They were selling very well, and more orders came. So far I have sold over 200 masks,” she told SBS. “Currently I am making the masks with my husband only, but if there are more orders, I will ask my friends with hearing loss to help.”

Ensuring the hard-of-hearing can effectively communicate during the pandemic, particularly in medical settings, has resulted in the creation of similar masks around the world.

In the United States, a company called Safe’N’Clear is producing surgical masks with a clear window. The product, however, has been sold out for months and is on backorder until mid-May. Another company, AO Facewear, has developed a mask that “utilizes fans to create a positive pressure clean air environment” and offers a clear panel for a “more human experience.” A single mask is available from AO Facewear for a cool $350 USD.

Online tutorials have also been uploaded to teach people to create their own clear masks from home.

The 1.3 billion individuals with hearing loss globally are not the only population to be disproportionately alienated by COVID-19. 

Individuals with any form of vision, hearing, or cognitive disability may be impacted by communication changes, while others with physical disabilities may have issues adopting various public health policies, Bonnielin Swenor, an associate professor of epidemiology and ophthalmology at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute, wrote in a John Hopkins University report.

During the launch of a policy brief on persons with disabilities earlier in May, United Nations’ Secretary-General António Guterres said every nation should update and incorporate a disability-inclusive COVID-19 response plan into legislation. 

"People with disabilities are among the hardest hit by COVID-19. They face a lack of accessible public health information, significant barriers to implementing basic hygiene measures, and inaccessible health facilities,” Guterres said. “The share of COVID-19 related deaths in care homes — where older people with disabilities are overrepresented — ranges from 19% to an astonishing 72%. In some countries, healthcare rationing decisions are based on discriminatory criteria, such as age or assumptions about quality or value of life, based on disability.”

"When we secure the rights of people with disabilities, we are investing in our common future,” Guterres added.


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Indonesian Couple Modifies Face Masks to Help People With Hearing Loss Communicate Safely

By Madeleine Keck