UT’s Hearing & Speech Center receives special ‘window masks’ to help with hearing loss patients

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — At the beginning of April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended everyone to wear a mask in public when social distancing isn’t possible, such as the grocery store.

Many people might have figured out that talking with masks on isn’t the most comfortable task.

For those who have hearing loss or a hard time communicating in general, normal face masks cover something very important to them: The mouth.

“In audiology and speech pathology, the need for accessibility to be able to see and visualize as much of someone’s face as possible, it became kind of a nationwide discussion,” Julie Beeler, program liaison for the University of Tennessee’s Audiology and Speech Pathology department, said.

Beeler said her department has been mainly working from home, and the use of telehealth has been great for some patients, but sometimes patients need to come in for emergencies.

Since doctors are wearing masks for all patients, the clinic and department needed to find masks allowing their patients to read their lips.

Beeler said manufactured ‘communicator’ masks had already run out, or were on back order.

Department leaders decided to reach out to Kandy Turner, a speech pathologist who started making regular face masks from home at the beginning of the pandemic.

Turner said she didn’t think a homemade version was possible at first, but after some convincing and researching, she found a tutorial for so called ‘window masks’ online and got to work.

“I made the mask, and it was large, it was a lot of material and it took a long time to make it. I thought, ‘well, I think I can adapt what she’s doing in the regular mask that I make. It will be a lot faster,'” Turner said.

Turner then started to make her regular masks with a filter and two pieces of cotton fabric, cut out a window in the middle and sewed in a clear, plastic shower curtain.

After trying it on, Turner, as a speech pathologist, knew the new mask would work.

She said she knows how important it is for those with hearing loss to be able to see their doctor’s lips, while also keeping both the doctor and patient safe from spreading any viruses.

“To protect the person who’s the audiologist and the patient, you know, you have to think about ways that they can let them read lips while we have a mask on. So, I thought that was important to give to UT,” Turner said.

Beeler said the window masks are truly for anyone who works or lives with someone who is communication-challenged, including with families who have a loved one on the autism spectrum.

“If they have a system where their communication skills are somehow delayed, or disordered or just different, (a regular mask) is going to impair their ability to fully understand a message if they cannot see the person’s mouth,” Beeler said.

Turner will be making window masks for all of the University of Tennessee’s Audiology and Speech Pathology employees, clinicians and students.

Beeler said the clinic will also have some regular face masks for patients if they do not have one.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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