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Oshkosh duo creates "window masks" to better communicate with hearing impaired

(WBAY)
Published: Jun. 11, 2020 at 5:46 PM CDT
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The CDC still recommends people wear masks while out in public. but those masks can make communication challenging for people with hearing impairments. Now a duo in Oshkosh is working to alleviate that problem.

Alban Limited is known for its dress-making, but it’s now venturing into another type of product. Owner Dave Alban is creating masks with clear, vinyl “windows” so a person’s mouth is visible.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is how much they use visual cues to understand speech,” said Katie Armaroaki, a doctor of Audiology with the Audiology and Hearing Aid Center off Washburn St. in Oshkosh.

Armatoski treats hard-of-hearing patients regularly.

"When somebody can't hear you, you can just see it,” said Armatoski. “They're tense, they get a little anxious, self conscious. They don't know if they're hearing what they're supposed to be hearing. So, you can see the relief on their face when they are able to understand what you are saying because they're reading your lips."

She’s used Alban’s services before and asked him to make the window masks for herself and her coworkers. Immediately, communicating became easier..

“Once I realized the improvement between my patient and I, the interaction was, I started thinking of all the other people that could utilize this as well,” said Armatoski.

So, she asked Alban if he’d be willing to make more for nursing homes, emergency care personnel, and other front-line workers.

“Those that have challenges with hearing, if this tiny mask we make improves their quality of life for communicating, it’s a win,” said Alban, who made the initial batch of masks for Armatoski for free.

For him, it’s a way to help his community and to honor his mother’s memory by using her fabrics collection for the project.

“It’s very gratifying,” said Alban. “I know my mom would be very pleased with this.”

So far the masks have been given to Oshkosh police and grocery store workers.

"It's been wonderful. Everyone's been asking if they can get more,” said Armatoski.

The pair created a GoFundMe campaign with a goal of $1,500 and hopes to make about 150 more masks.

Each mask has an inner pocket to string a paperclip of pipe cleaner through to allow adjustment on the nose. Defogger is also applied to the “windows,” but overtime as that wears off Dawn dish soap can also be used to prevent fogging.

Armatoski says if you do struggle to hear people through masks, you should probably get a basic hearing test from an audiologist.

To contribute to the GoFundMe campaign:

To learn how to make a “window mask” of your own: