As students get ready to go back to school, some students will face obstacles when it comes to wearing masks.
While most students will have no issue wearing masks, students who are deaf or hard of hearing will lose the ability to lip-read if everybody’s mouths are covered up.
John Wyvil, the executive director for the Nebraska Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, said the decision to wear masks is up to public health officials and school administration, but schools need to develop a communication plan for students who are deaf and hard of hearing.
Wyvil said teachers of students who are deaf or hard of hearing need clear masks, as well as their interpreters and classmates.
“In a school setting, a typical student will only get 70% of the material taught,” he said. “Students that are deaf or hard of hearing will get less.”
Wyvil said 892 students have been identified to be deaf or hard of hearing and need a specialized learning plan in Nebraska.
“Not all students with hearing loss are identified,” he said.
Wyvil said it is important that school administrations recognize the communication challenges that arise due to wearing masks and develop a plan, such as providing clear masks to those who need them.
Virgil Harden, Grand Island Public Schools chief finance officer, said school officials have ordered 1,500 clear masks from Eakes.
“We ordered 500 adult-sized masks and 1,000 masks for children,” said Harden.
He said they are working on a plan to distribute the clear masks, but they will make sure that students who are deaf or hard of hearing, as well as their teacher, will have the clear masks.
Harden said the identification of those who need masks and the distribution of the masks will be done through the district’s special education department.
Jonathan Doll, the GIPS chief data analyst and organizational strategist, who is deaf in one ear, is working to make clear masks for those who are around people who are deaf and hard of hearing.
“Those who are deaf and hard of hearing don’t necessarily need clear masks, but those around those people need clear masks,” said Doll.
He said another issue people with hearing loss face in wearing masks is having the elastic loops interfere with hearing aids.
“The loops mangle the hearing aids and they get tangled, lost or broken,” said Doll.
He said he has started making masks that go around the neck and cover the nose and mouth without going over the ears.
Doll wants to ensure that those who need clear masks or the masks that go around the neck can have one.
“My dream is to get a tiny army of folks to sew masks for the schools,” he said.
He has made about 40 such masks, but he said if others would like to help him, they can email him at email@example.com.
Dr. Kim Andresen, a local audiologist, said that all kids will face a barrier without being able to see their teacher’s face.
Andresen said they will lose the ability to see emotions and see words, an ability that is important in a child’s development.
While not having the lip-reading component in schools is an issue for students, losing that component also hampers communication for adults, she said.
“Hearing loss is prevalent in this community,” said Andresen.
She said people in the community struggle with claustrophobia, asthma and anxiety, which makes wearing a normal mask difficult.
“Clear masks can feel more open and help people with those conditions as well,” said Andresen.
She said it is important to get a person’s attention before speaking to them because that person may not be able to hear well.
“The public needs to be patient in communicating with each other,” said Andresen. “People that are hard of hearing are having a harder time with people wearing masks. It’s about caring for others.”