Face masks have made it harder for everyone to communicate, whether it’s deciphering words or reading emotions. For the deaf and hard of hearing, they’ve become a major obstacle in day-to-day life.
But there is one place where people with hearing loss can count on clear communication: At the Lethbridge-Layton-Mackay Rehabilitation Centre in our CIUSSS. Professionals on staff are wearing transparent face masks that enable their clients to read lips and interpret facial expressions. As a result, hundreds of those with hearing impairments—from pre-schoolers to seniors—are able to access the services of our CIUSSS.
“These masks have made a difference by letting us serve our clients the right way,” says Luc Aucoin, Rehabilitation Coordinator at the MAB-Mackay site. “We’re able to pursue our mission, which is to serve people.”
Ashanta Farrington, a social worker based at MAB, says communicating with her clients has vastly improved since she began using clear masks this fall. “I’m able to efficiently carry on the work I did before the pandemic,” she says. One such client is Charmaine McDonald, 73, who receives support from the MAB-Mackay as she prepares for a cochlear implant.
Like many people experiencing hearing loss, Ms. McDonald has found it extremely difficult to carry out everyday tasks during the pandemic, such as going to the bank or pharmacy. She can’t hear what people are saying through their masks, and she can’t read their lips.
“It’s always difficult for me at the best of times, and when people are wearing masks, it’s nearly impossible,” she says. “I find it exhausting.”
Yet when she goes to MAB-Mackay to see Ms. Farrington, she can follow everything her social worker is saying. “I can read her lips. Everything is much less stressful,” Ms. McDonald says. “The Mackay is wonderful. I’m so lucky.”
The clear masks, which are anti-fogging and open on the sides, have also been critical in helping children who are treated at our CIUSSS for speech and language disorders. Jackie Morrison-Visentin, a Speech Language Pathologist at the Mackay Centre School, explains that clear masks allow a child to see her mouth and the movements required to produce certain sounds; the children can visually distinguish between something as basic as making the “pa” versus the “ta” sound. It’s especially important for those with childhood apraxia of speech, a motor disorder that makes it hard to make the movements needed for speaking.
“These masks have had a huge impact on children’s ability to learn new speech skills,” Ms. Morrison-Visentin says. “With opaque masks, it was like trying to teach a dance routine without being able to show the moves.”
Besides facilitating speech therapy, the transparent masks also help build bonds by allowing children to see emotions—whether it’s a reassuring smile or an enthusiastic grin. “We demand things from these kids that are difficult,” Ms. Morrison-Visentin says. “The masks make it easier for them to read what we’re feeling and thinking.”
Ms. Farrington agrees. “So much of our communication is non-verbal. Facial expressions are incredibly important,” she says. Transparent masks are so effective, she adds, that clients often forget that she is wearing any mask at all.
The face coverings, which are manufactured by ClearMask, were approved for use by Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) at our CIUSSS. They are being used by a range of professionals at MAB-Mackay, including audiologists, speech-language pathologists, social workers, psychologists and special-care educators.