Who ever thought we would all be wearing face masks? But here we are.
Wearing a mask is one way to help protect ourselves and others from the tragic coronavirus that has killed 2.23 million people worldwide, including 441,000 Americans, as of Feb. 1. Locally, more than 1,200 King County residents have died from COVID.
COVID face masks have evolved. They have taken many shapes. And one kind of mask could help some older people communicate—if the person talking to you is wearing one.
Window masks are reusable cloth face masks with a clear plastic panel. During this pandemic, window masks can help people communicate with those who are deaf or hard of hearing, learning a language, in speech therapy, or learning to read.
Those are all folks who may need and want to see someone’s mouth to help them understand what that person is saying. For most people, seeing someone’s smile can be important as well.
I coordinated a project where expert local sewers made window masks, at home on their sewing machines. We distributed these masks to organizations that wanted them. We have now turned that into an informational project about making and using window masks.
Our project (part of King County’s repair events program, currently on hold due to COVID) started making window masks last May at the request of the Children’s Therapy speech therapy clinic at Valley Medical Center in Renton.
The 399 window masks that our project made have been distributed to organizations and institutions in King County. The intent is that their staffs try a few of these out—at no cost or obligation—as a potential alternative to single-use, disposable, all-plastic clear face masks.
If the masks that we provided work for the organizations and they want more, they can try to find volunteers to make window masks for them or purchase them online.
Many options now exist for purchasing high-quality reusable cloth window masks online. Just do an online search for “window masks.” Those options did not exist when we started this project.
In working with organizations interested in window masks, we emphasize that they are not an all-purpose solution to communication challenges faced by many older people and others during COVID. Window masks are simply a tool that may work for some organizations.
Don’t quickly jump into making window masks or ask others to use them. Challenges abound for both making and using window masks.
So far, the most positive responses to the use of window masks locally have been from the speech therapy community and the Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing support community.
Here’s a Facebook comment on the City of Kirkland page in December (Kirkland helped promote our workshop) about window masks:
“I work at a school for the deaf and have been making these like crazy since June. To answer some questions – They’re not perfect, they do fog up and they are less comfortable than a cloth mask. But if it means my students can read my lips, I’ll wear them in a heartbeat. Dish soap, bar soap and anti-fog spray all really help with the fogging.”
Thank you everyone for all your efforts to help others stay safe, and for everything you do! Here’s to more love, and more smiles, throughout 2021 and beyond!