17-Year-Old’s Clear Face Masks Help the Hearing Impaired Community

Transparent masks offer a smiling window to the world for all to see.

Aug 2, 2020

Wearing a face mask is mandated in many countries around the world, providing well-needed protection. Yet people who are hearing impaired and rely on visual cues and lipreading, are having difficulty communicating with those who wear masks. Isabella Appell, a compassionate 17-year-old teen from Thousand Oaks, California, has decided to lend a hand. She is voluntarily sewing transparent masks and donating them, reopening the world to the people who are hearing impaired.

Isabella, pre-coronavirus, had been attending high school by day and sewing by night. When the pandemic first arrived, she started sewing regular face masks for other people. 

She was soon troubled to hear there were no transparent masks readily available to assist people who need to lipread. As a result, she decided to make them herself and created a home-grown venture called Talking Masks. Her home-made vinyl masks are specially coated with an anti-fog spray that enables people to clearly read lips.

The Appell family is proud of their daughter. Renee Appell, Isabella’s mother, told CNN about her daughter’s Talking Masks initiative. “When she finds something she believes in, she gives it everything she has, and she is dedicated to this cause like nothing we've seen before.”

Appell helps out her daughter by answering hundreds of emails daily and mailing the orders.  The family has also purchased most of the supplies to assist Isabella with the project. Some people are now donating fabric and elastic, but since the scope of the project has grown tremendously, they are appreciative of all support.

One mask is sent out per donation, and her masks are free of charge, with shipping paid by the recipient. All donations go directly to The Hearing Aid Project where she has a personal fundraising page.

Isabella explained to Goodnet that she became interested in the hearing-impaired community after watching “Switched at Birth,” a show that features a few characters who are deaf. Some scenes in the show were filmed completely in American Sign Language (ASL) and watching this completely changed Isabella’s  life.

Isabella says she was inspired  to learn ASL. “What really led me to pursuing it as a real passion was the idea that sign language is beneficial to everyone and there’s this sense of community around it that not many people know about. I started learning a few signs, signed up for an online course, and over quarantine, I have been joining a group every Wednesday to practice.”

Community service is not new to Isabella. She is on the board of her high school’s community service group assisting in the planning of three fundraisers each semester. And this summer, aside from sewing transparent masks, she is involved in online tutoring programs, giving classes in ASL, art, and reading comprehension. 

Isabella's incredible work aiding the hearing imparied is well needed. According to the World Health Organization, 466 million people around the world have some form of hearing loss that is disabling, and of this number, 34 million are children. This staggering number represents five percent of the world’s population. And in those who are over 65 years of age, one third have some form of hearing loss.

In times when face masks are mandatory, transparent masks are a necessity for many. The good news is that there are people who are starting to recognize this need and are providing transparent masks to assist people, especially in hospital settings.

When doctors, nurses, and family members are obliged to wear surgical masks, a transparent mask is important; it reduces anxiety in young patients who look for reassurance and a loving smile from their parents; it assists those who do not fully understand the native language spoken in a hospital; and it calms seniors who may have trouble comprehending.

This need for a transparent mask indicates that seeing the mouth is very important when communicating. The mouth is not just the place where words are formed; it is the seat of emotions, especially the smile. People rely heavily on reading the eyes and mouth to gather social cues, and when the mouth is covered, may feel confused.

With more than 50 countries presently mandating the wearing of face masks, there is a growing need for the hearing impaired as well as the hearing population to be able to see the whole face. See-through masks may soon be worn by all, and then the happy smile will again be visible on the street, and in daycares, schools, and stores.

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NICOLE NATHAN BEM, CONTRIBUTOR
Nicole is an editor, blogger and author who has recently left her urban life in order to be more connected with nature. In her spare time, she’s outdoors hiking in the forest, mountain biking or tending to her new permaculture garden.