FBLA Disability Community Service Project

Hey everyone! A group of friends at my school started an initiative called Project CARE, which is a venture that is a part of the local Future Business Leaders of America (F.B.L.A.) chapter, to promote inclusiveness for kids with disabilities. The A in CARE is for advocacy, and part of those efforts was informing the public of the difficulties these kids go through every day and how that’s been magnified by COVID. Here’s a conclusive report of their project, that I beleive will be quite interesting for all of you to read:

Disability Communication Amid the Pandemic

The pandemic has brought on a sudden surge of mask use, making it harder and harder for the disabled community to communicate with others.

The problem

Ever since Covid-19, we’ve all seen it. Masks are everywhere. Stepping foot into a grocery store means a crowd of masks at every aisle and turn. Or, even a walk to a park means loads of people with the bottom half of their face completely covered.

Even though this might not seem like a problem at all, the disabled community has by far suffered immensely from masks. Don’t get me wrong. Masks are undeniably one of the most valuable resources we have to avoid the deadly virus. Yet at the same time, the blockage of facial expressions and visual cues has led to a lasting impact on effective communication for the disabled.

The first problem that comes with communicating amid the pandemic is how much people rely on actual movements to read what others are saying. According to cbc, about 70% of American Sign Language (ASL) involves facial expressions and body movements, whereas the other 30% are really from the actual hand signs themselves.[1] Then, there’s the struggle with the muffled talking too. A study by the Canadian Hearing Services shows that masks can make a person’s voice a whooping 25 to 30% softer, increasing the struggle further for those that are hard of hearing.[1] And even after all of that, there are other factors too, like having your mask bands being tangled up in hearing aids, which adds up to headaches and dizziness.[2] But how many people does this actually impact? According to the World Health Organization, over 460 million people worldwide have a disability that has to do with a hearing condition.[2] 

The solution

Yet at the end of the day, the future looks bright. The exponential success and earnings of innovative masking products are leaving companies and entrepreneurs scrambling to be the next star product. 

And that’s exactly what ClearMask has done.[3] Created and found by Ms.Dittmar, a deaf woman herself, she’s relied on expressions, lip-reading, and facial clues to communicate for her whole life. After being put in a room with a bundle of surgeons with masks on and no way to communicate with them, her frustration motivated her to start ClearMask. That was over two years ago.

Fast forward to April of 2020, and the company has already sold 12 million masks. Having only operated for half a year, their product has also been the first transparent mask to be FDA approved and widely sought out by big media outlets like Wall Street Journal and NBC News.[4][5]

And the gap between those two years and officially launching in April of this year? ClearMask has been launching prototypes, and discussing and receiving feedback from those both in the scientific and disability community to create a product that most reflects and supports the users. The result was worth it. In speech language pathologist Julia Lipowski’s words,”The ClearMask has been so helpful when working with my apraxic patients, deaf and hard of hearing patients, and when performing oral mechanism exams.” 

Overall, the whole Corona thing has been a major setback for all of us, but especially those with disabilities. Looking towards ClearMask, this is just one in the hundreds of ideas and products that have been released because of Covid, bettering and increasing hope in every single soul of the disability community. 

Sources

[1] https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/masks-and-barriers-communicating-deaf-and-hard-of-hearing-1.5579166

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/aug/20/deaf-people-mask-wearing-lipreading

[3] https://www.theclearmask.com/

[4] https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-transparent-face-mask-takes-off-amid-covid-19-11604182472

[5] https://youtu.be/nCwCYIpUm6A?t=268

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