College student Aishwarya Sunaad designs masks that are accessible for people with hearing impairments
Conventional face masks make it hard for people who are deaf and hard of hearing to communicate easily. Ashoka University student Aishwarya Sunaad has designed face masks that aim to address this gap.
Many deaf and hard of hearing people rely on lip reading and sign language to communicate. Lip reading is hard with face masks that are now mandatory wear post the pandemic. They cover the mouth and make it hard for hearing impaired people to understand what is being said.
Aishwarya Sunaad, a student at Ashoka University, realised this when someone reached out to her with a request for face masks for hearing impaired children. Aishwarya also runs a business called Ordinaire, which sells daily use items stitched by women from the villages of Karnataka and Haryana. “Ordinary things by ordinary people”, in her words.
Conventional face masks are not inclusive
When the lockdown started, Aishwarya decided to open the Ordinaire unit to make face masks for frontline workers. “We decided to make masks for frontline workers like policemen, street vendors, etc. who use disposable masks for days due to limited supply and cost factors. We made nearly 3,000 reusable masks and distributed them”.
Aishwarya happened to come across a project in the United States called DHH Mask Project that makes masks for people with hearing impairments. Around the same time came a message from a speech therapist.
A speech therapist reached out to us saying conventional face masks puts kids who rely on lip reading at a disadvantage. We started working on masks for hearing impaired people that offer the same level of protection as cloth masks but with a clear covering around the mouth area to allow them to lip read and engage with facial expressions to communicate. – Aishwarya Sunaad, Founder, Ordinaire
The masks are of cotton, making them comfortable to wear for long periods of time. “The cotton is sanitised and re-usable” adds Aishwarya, who made 10 prototypes to arrive at the right size. “I wore them through the day wherever I went to ensure the comfort factor”, says this 22-year old.
Masks are durable, reusable
Each mask is priced at ₹ 50 and Aishwarya is in talks with NGOs to make them for wider distribution. She has distributed 100 masks to a school for children with hearing impairments and intellectual disabilities in Karnataka’s Kodagu district. “My focus in on elderly people and children”, she adds.
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