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Mother and daughter team up to make inclusive face masks for deaf community

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Mother and daughter from Las Cruces, Texas team up to make inclusive face masks for deaf community. (Photo: Karla Martinez)

EL PASO, Texas (KFOX/KDBC) — As people continue to wear masks amid the coronavirus pandemic, the hearing-impaired community is finding the new practice a bit more challenging.

People that are hard of hearing heavily rely on reading lips to communicate. Wearing face coverings makes that more difficult to do.

Several companies are working to make masks with clear shields around the mouth to help ease the problem, but the demand is too high.

Once Karla Martinez and her daughter, Lesley, heard about the shortage, they spared no time in finding ways to help.

“My daughter, Lesley, and I are always looking for ways to serve the community. So, once we found out that so many people were struggling to find these masks, we knew what we needed to do,” said Martinez.

Martinez says it only took hearing one story of a woman who couldn’t communicate with her boyfriend because he relied on reading her lips to start making the masks.

“Sometimes we lack empathy and we have to understand that there are people out there that live different lifestyles than we do,” said Martinez.

Her daughter shared a post on Facebook letting people know that if they needed one of the masks, they would provide it completely free of charge, and the response from the community was overwhelming, to say the least.

“I’m glad to do it. I hadn’t realized how many people needed my help. That’s why I’m not selling them, just giving. Right now, we’re going through so much with coronavirus, it’s important to show that we can help each other,” said Martinez, owner of the Mission Hearing Aid Center in El Paso.

“I encourage people who say they’d like to help, but don’t have the money, to sit down and think about how else they can help, because we all have special abilities.”

For people like Daniel Martinez, gestures like these mean the world.

“I wear hearing aids myself and hearing loss is not noticeable. You can’t look at someone and know that they can’t hear. Visually, when we have hearing loss, lip reading, facial expressions are very important for us to be able to communicate and bridge those gaps of understanding,” said Martinez.

Martinez says if you’re out in public and realize someone is having trouble communicating, this is what you should do:

  • Make sure to grab that person's attention from a safe 6-foot distance.
  • Face them directly and speak in a louder tone, but be careful not to shout.
  • Slow down your speech.
  • If someone that is hearing impaired doesn’t hear you correctly the first time, then rephrase what you said.
  • Do not dismiss the conversation.
“You know, someone who is hearing impaired, the last thing they want someone to do is shout at them. Saying things like, 'Forget it,' or, 'Don’t worry about it,' is very hurtful. It just puts us more into isolation,” said Martinez.

If you’re interested in ordering a mask, you can message Karla on Facebook or call her at (575) 449-0872.

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