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Covid-19 has made life more isolated for the deaf community

While face masks have become a mandatory part of government's broader solution to curb the spread of Covid-19, its a hard adjustment for those who rely on lip reading and facial expressions to communicate. 

An initiative with assistance from the Rotary Club of Ballito is helping deaf people cope with the difficulty of wearing face masks.

The deaf community often feels forgotten and has suffered further isolation since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

While face masks have become a mandatory part of government’s broader solution to curb the spread of Covid-19, its a hard adjustment for those who rely on lip reading and facial expressions to communicate.

Ballito Rotarian Tabitha Thrash told the Courier the deaf community have been particularly impacted by government guidelines insisting that citizens wear masks in public and social distance.

“Face masks have caused communication difficulties among the deaf and hearing impaired as they have lost at least half of the facial expressions on which they depend.”

Additionally, social distancing guidelines could cause difficulty for those who are hearing-impaired since the increased distance between people can make it harder to hear.

“Though government restriction are necessary to keep the coronavirus from spreading, they have made it more difficult for the disabled population without offering alternatives.”

In the past few weeks Thrash has been hard at work sewing “window” face masks, using materials provided by the Rotary club, which she donated to Hlabisa and Appelbosch district hospitals.

Thrash also donated 210 fabric masks to the two hospitals using her own funds and fabric donations from the Ballito community.

“I was asked to make prototype masks for someone who teaches at a deaf school. I also received a special request to make some of the “window masks” for an up-coming communication and deafness awareness week at Ngelezane Hospital”

The challenge in making the window masks have included finding the right thickness of plastic to be able to stitch it to the fabric.

A too-thick plastic can obscure lips with blurriness..

However, it is not just people with hearing loss who could benefit. Clear masks are also very useful for autistic people, people with learning difficulties and small children who might be afraid of masks or need to be able to see facial expressions.

A niche product initially designed to help the deaf community could in fact make everyone’s lives better.

If anyone is interested in the special “window masks”contact Tabitha at 083 387 2477 or email tabithrash@gmail.com.

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