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WEB EXCLUSIVE Hearing someone speak through a mask is hard enough already, but imagine how much harder it would be for someone who is deaf or hearing impaired. Many people who are hard of hearing rely on lip reading or facial expressions, which cannot be comprehended through a traditional mask. Additionally, Dr. Sheri Mello, Au.D., owner and doctor of audiology at Raleigh Hearing and Tinnitus Center, says that masks cut down at least 10 decibels of sound which makes voices muffled.
Dr. Mello noticed that this was becoming a major problem for her patients back in March, and so she set out to do something that would help them. She found a deaf college student that was studying deaf and hard of hearing online who came up with a mask pattern that has a clear window around the mouth area, allowing lips and expressions to be seen while still covering the nose and chin. Dr. Mello obtained the pattern and asked furloughed patients of hers if they would be interested in sewing the masks. Although she didn’t expect many to volunteer, her patients ended up making and donating hundreds of masks, which Dr. Mello then sent out nationwide, from teachers of autistic children to lawyers in courtrooms.
“It was just amazing how big of a reach it went to—not just deaf people but people that were a little bit hard of hearing and couldn’t hear in a classroom situation from a distance, things like that,” Dr. Mello said.
Dr. Mello says that, for her, the masks were significant in providing that good feeling we were all seeking out once the pandemic hit and everyone was forced to quarantine and businesses were closing down. Once she got the word out about the masks she was featured on WRAL, ABC and CNN and people from all over the country were asking for them. Instead of just saving them for her own patients or asking for money for them, she happily donated the clear window masks to folks both near and far—as far as California and Florida.
“To see the look on the sewers faces dropping off the masks and the look on the recipients faces receiving the masks, it was just a great feeling—everybody wanted to feel good at this point during the pandemic,” Dr. Mello says. “I think it was important for me because not only did I help people who needed the masks—my hearing impaired patients—but I also helped people find something good to do in sewing the masks. I think it was important all the way around.”
For her hard work and compassion, Dr. Mello was nominated for hearing aid manufacturing company Oticon’s Focus on People Awards and is now one of three finalists in their Hearing Care Practitioner category. Although Dr. Mello’s masks are now depleted, she says clear window masks can easily be found online with a quick Google search.
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