Special masks for teachers so deaf students can read their lips easily

(Above) One of the prototypes for the specially designed masks that Ms Chan Siang Choo and Ms Rebecca Teo made for teachers of deaf students. They started to use solid colours (left) for the masks rather than patterned materials after feedback that t
(Right) One of the prototypes for the specially designed masks that Ms Chan Siang Choo and Ms Rebecca Teo made for teachers of deaf students. They started to use solid colours (left) for the masks rather than patterned materials after feedback that the latter would be distracting for the students.PHOTOS: COURTESY OF CHAN SIANG CHOO, REBECCA TEO

Specially designed face masks for teachers are being made so that deaf students can lip-read what they are saying through a plastic see-through portion at the mouth area.

As schools reopen, about 300 such masks will be distributed over the next few weeks to 150 teachers and allied education staff from the Singapore Association for the Deaf (SADeaf), Lighthouse School and Canossian School.

Several contributors, such as Ms Chan Siang Choo, 56, have spent the past few weeks revising prototypes and making the masks.

These masks will help deaf students who rely on lip-reading to complement sign language.

While transparent face shields can be used, recent Health Ministry guidelines indicate that face masks should be used instead of face shields in most situations, though both offer adequate basic protection.

Ms Chan, a senior director at an information technology firm, was approached by her friend Rebecca Teo, who had heard that SG Enable was looking for people to help.

Ms Teo, now retired, is a former SG Enable board member.

The duo have been working together to produce the masks, with Ms Chan using a sewing machine and Ms Teo doing the portions that require hand-stitching.

They have made about 50 masks.

Local bag designer and sewing specialist Uyii is also involved in making the masks.

SG Enable head of partnerships Ivan Chin said that during the agency's regular engagements with the deaf community, it found out about the challenge that could arise when everyone is required to wear masks in class.

 
 
 

Mr Chin said: "With see-through masks, deaf students from schools participating in this pilot will be able to read lips and facial cues of their teachers, and communicate more effectively with them."

Schools are set to reopen in phases from Tuesday, including special education schools.

Ms Chan said she and Ms Teo went through several prototypes after receiving feedback.

They picked a thicker plastic material that was less flimsy, and used solid colours for the masks rather than patterned materials that would be distracting for the students.

To fix the problem of the plastic fogging up, Ms Chan looked up a quick solution on Google, which was to rub soap on plastic and let it dry.

Ms Chan and Ms Teo will continue to fine-tune the masks after more feedback.

 
 
 

Ms Barbara D'Cotta-Ang, head of the deaf education department at SADeaf, said the masks will help teachers communicate with students who are deaf and hard of hearing.

"(Students) have found this period especially challenging, as there tends to be miscommunication on account of not being able to see one's facial expressions and movement of the mouth," she added.

The special masks may also be useful for healthcare workers interacting with patients or food handlers speaking to customers, said Mr Chin, as listeners can read facial expressions better and make out more clearly what is being said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 30, 2020, with the headline 'Special masks for teachers so deaf students can read their lips easily'. Print Edition | Subscribe