OS employee sewing talent clearly fills a need
Masks help those who need to see lips to communicate
Caron Truax wholeheartedly believes in the motto “See a need, fill a need.”
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Truax had already been creating regular masks for local nursing homes and hospitals. To date, she has sold or donated 271 of the original-style masks and 20 surgical caps.
“Since the beginning of COVID-19, the need for PPE (face masks) was frantic,” she explained. “I began my quarantine by researching how to make regular face masks and combined three different patterns to come up with my own design.”
But recently, Truax saw a new demand which had unintentionally risen out of the new recommended guidelines by the state that everyone wear a mask while in public to stop the spread of COVID-19. Those in the Deaf and hard of hearing community, as well as anyone needing to view lips and facial expressions to help with communication, were suddenly at a huge disadvantage.
However, as a project/department assistant in Oakland Schools Student Services for Low Incidence department, which is part of Oakland Schools Special Populations division, Truax was keenly aware of the issues both students and school workers assisting those Deaf and hard of hearing were experiencing trying to operate with face masks.
Kate Salathiel, an Oakland Schools’ educational audiologist, also called Truax with her concerns.
“I noticed it does reduce clarity and loudness and overall success communicating, and resulted in individuals pulling the mask down or taking it off altogether,” said Salathiel of the original-style masks. “It really impacts the ability to understand with a mask on. It’s very frustrating for people who are Deaf and hard of hearing to be able to go out and communicate. It can be isolating.”
Salathiel said she knew from Truax’s other sewing efforts she was up to the challenge of creating a mask that could accommodate those needing greater visual access to communicate.
“Caron jumped right in and she did a lot of research on what kind of materials to use,” said Salathiel. “Her sewing is so beautiful and she is just so capable.”
Truax said she started out by watching a YouTube channel that laid out the foundation for the clear window masks called Shades of Heather Designed Sewing. Although the design helped Truax get started, she wanted to make some changes. First, she discovered that the material used for the mask window contained a carcinogen, so Truax wanted to try something else. Salathiel had a stack of clear transparency sheets that the women felt would work just as well and be safer, which proved to be true.
“I made my first mask according to the YouTube video’s measurements, used a transparency sheet and added the pipe cleaner for shaping around the nose and to keep it up on the face. Viola! It worked for my small featured face,” explained Truax.
However, when Truax’s husband tried the mask on, they both burst out laughing because the mask was too small. After that, Truax began increasing the size to also accommodate a larger feature face.
“Through trial and error and having epic failures, I found this pattern and I said ‘let’s make this one and see if it works.’ I sent a picture of a finished one to Kate and she said ‘oh my gosh, I think these are going to work.’”
Truax then made 10 more and gave them to Salathiel to test out with family members and friends who are also Deaf and hard of hearing.
Kelly Heald, teacher consultant for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing at Oakland Schools, was the first to try the mask with her husband Steve, who is Deaf.
“He loved it! It just goes to show you how important seeing someone’s mouth is to a deaf person,” said Heald.
Based on positive feedback, Truax has made more, which some of the Oakland Schools’ staff has begun to use as one option when working with students.
"They just love the masks, they really feel like we are doing everything we can to bridge this gap in communication,” said Salathiel.
It turns out the masks haven’t only been asked for by the Deaf and hard of hearing community. Many other individuals are finding having a clear mask for speaking is more helpful, said Truax, who added her son, who works in a loud steel plant has also asked her to make some for employees.
“It makes me feel good and fulfilled that I’m able to help people,” she said. “To know this is kind of homegrown and a way to reach out to the community and help is tremendously gratifying.”
Sarah Davis is the communications specialist for Oakland Schools.