Clear mask helps people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing read lips


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Many people can be seen wearing a mask in public to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

While face coverings are meant as a safety precaution, it can create problems for people with disabilities.

Masking up is recommended by health officials to help slow the spread of COVID-19. But for those who rely on lip-reading during a conversation, a mask can be problematic.

“When I started to go out in the community, and we started to see people wearing masks and of course you also have plexiglass shields at every counter in the city, it became increasingly difficult for me to understand what people were saying,” Ryan Groeneweg said.

Ryan Groeneweg has Usher syndrome, which impacts his vision and hearing. He says his ability to understand people was hugely impacted when people started wearing face coverings.

“Everybody was wearing masks at work as well, meetings, conferences, etc. it was just more challenging for me. But then Marni started wearing her first mask and that was the first time I’d seen that, and I was like yes, that’s great,” Groeneweg said.

“I could tell in terms of ease of communication with him,” Marni Johnson Martin said.

Marni Johnson Martin with the Center for Disabilities SD is an audiologist and colleague of Groeneweg.

After working with people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing, she realized just how important a mask that allows people to see her face is.

“If we saw more of this going on it would be much easier. Doing this interview, you’re wearing a face shield so I can follow this conversation much easier If you were wearing a face-covering like your cameraman, it would be much more difficult for me to follow this conversation,” Groeneweg said.

Not only are these masks helpful for people hard-of-hearing, but they also allow others to see visual cues.

“I think for anyone with communication. We don’t realize how much we get from facial cues. And a lot of times people will say oh I don’t read lips, and it’s not that we’re reading lips, you know no one stares at someone’s lips but… we get a ton of information from facial cues,” Johnson Martin said.

As face coverings become part of our new normal, Groeneweg hopes to see more people wearing a clear mask.

“Certainly this would be a great alternative in stores or in the community as far as being able to handle transactions, interact with customers, restaurants all of those things,” Groeneweg said.

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