SINGAPORE - When Mr Kevin Siew, who has hearing difficulties, started speech therapy sessions last April, the mandatory mask wearing meant that he was often unable to figure out what his therapist was saying.
The mailroom assistant, 47, said the sessions have become more productive since last October, when his therapist wore a face mask that comes with a transparent window at the mouth area, as part of a trial at Sengkang General Hospital (SKH).
"Using a transparent mask is easier for a deaf person to lip read," he said.
For example, the mask allows patients to differentiate between letters such as "b" and "p" by following the speech therapist's visual cues.
Come August, the transparent masks, which are of medical grade and come with an anti-fog shield to maintain visibility, will be deployed at public hospitals across Singapore's various healthcare clusters.
These masks allow patients to view the lip movements of healthcare professionals and vice versa, said the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), SKH and local mask maker Forever Family on Thursday (May 19).
The three organisations began developing the masks in early 2021.
As mask wearing is still required indoors, such as in patient-facing areas, such masks will be especially useful for speech therapists working in hospitals, schools and other settings, in order to assist them in speech, language, communication and even swallowing difficulties, they said.
The visualisation of the mouth is key in helping healthcare professionals conduct therapy for children and adults alike, to model words, sounds and facial expressions that can be better understood by their patients, thus enabling more efficient communication and conversation.
The collaboration tapped the manufacturing and product development expertise of A*Star's Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology and Forever Family's mask textile knowledge.
Before the development of the transparent masks, speech therapists used pre-recorded videos or photos to show patients the mouth movements to be imitated, but this meant there were limits to what could be done during the sessions.
Another option was to have a plastic divider on the table, separating therapists from their patients, but the therapists would have to put on and take off their masks repeatedly.
The public can buy the masks, at $55 for a box of 10, at Forever Family's website.