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Brothers with Cochlear Implants Create One-Stop Accessible Mask Shop

When something as simple as wearing a mask began to infringe on accessibility issues for people who rely on lip reading, brothers Jake and Patrick deHahn stepped in.

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Written By: Rin-rin Yu

When something as simple as wearing a mask began to infringe on accessibility issues for people who rely on lip reading, brothers Jake and Patrick deHahn stepped in.

Born profoundly deaf and wearing cochlear implants, Patrick, 29, and Jake, 24, recognized the problem posed for other people who were deaf and hard of hearing when the masks hid people’s mouths. With that, they created accessiblemasks.org.

“There’s a solution: Clear, transparent face coverings that present more of the wearer’s face and mouth,” they wrote on their website. “With ‘see-through’ windows, people can see facial cues, expressions, and lip-read if they need to.”

Although they live on opposites coasts (Jake is in San Francisco and Patrick is in Brooklyn), they teamed up to create the one-stop online shop for transparent masks of various sizes and designs. Shoppers can narrow options by style (ear loop, tie-back, etc.), reusable or disposable, and other features such as child-size or anti-fog. The website also provides information on how to care for masks or prevent fogging, and about accessibility in general.

The brothers note that a particularly difficult problem was when interpreters were not permitted into hospitals, and patients who were deaf and hard of hearing could not ask health care workers to remove their masks. Patrick, a journalist, has also tweeted about his own experience trying to get a COVID-19 test in a noisy hospital tent with everyone muffled behind a mask.

“The test was in an outdoor hospital tent where the ventilation systems were noisy, and health care workers were taking care of other people besides me. And everyone inside was wearing a mask covering their mouths, so I couldn’t lipread,” he wrote. “AND my cochlear implant battery died while I was in the process of paperwork with the health care worker.”

He also tweeted about his experience voting in-person in the primary when his absentee ballot never arrived in the mail. “I struggled in the polling station because I’m deaf. I had to ask every person there to repeat what they said at least two times because of face masks. I wear a cochlear implant, and I could manage with figuring out what they said. Still, it wasn’t accessible.”

Jake, a user experience/user interface (UX/UI) visual designer who designed the website for accessiblemasks.org, is inspired to prove that design and accessibility can easily go hand-in-hand. “Accessibility and universal design are either overlooked or ‘too daunting’ to accomplish,” Jake said in an interview with Clarke Speaks magazine, the alumni publication for Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech which both men attended in Northampton, Massachusetts. “I aim to quash those preconceived notions and prove how accessibility can easily be the norm.”

Dos hermanos con implantes cocleares crean una tienda de mascarillas accesibles

Cuando algo tan simple como utilizar una mascarilla comenzó a generar problemas de accesibilidad para las personas que dependen de la lectura labial, los hermanos Jake y Patrick deHahn pasaron a la acción.

Patrick, de 29 años, y Jake, de 24, que nacieron con una sordera profunda y utilizan implantes cocleares, se dieron cuenta del problema que planteaba a las personas con sordera e hipoacusia la ocultación de la boca de otras personas por el uso de mascarillas. Ante esta situación, crearon accessiblemasks.org.

«Existe una solución: cubiertas faciales transparentes que dejan ver una parte mayor del rostro y la boca de los usuarios», escribieron en su sitio web. «Con las ventanas transparentes, las personas pueden ver señales faciales y expresiones, y leer los labios si es necesario».

Aunque viven en costas opuestas (Jake reside en San Francisco y Patrick en Brooklyn), se aliaron para crear la tienda en línea de mascarillas transparentes con varios tamaños y diseños. Los compradores pueden acotar su búsqueda en función del estilo (con sujeción de oreja, detrás de la cabeza, etc.), si son reutilizables o desechables, y otras características como tamaño infantil o antivaho. En el sitio web también se facilita información sobre cómo cuidar las mascarillas o evitar que se empañen, y sobre accesibilidad en general.

Los hermanos señalan que un problema especialmente difícil tuvo lugar cuando no se permitía la entrada de intérpretes en los hospitales y los pacientes con sordera e hipoacusia no podían pedir a los empleados sanitarios que se quitaran las mascarillas. Patrick, un periodista, también ha tuiteado sobre su propia experiencia al tratar de hacerse una prueba de COVID-19 en una ruidosa carpa hospitalaria donde todo el mundo llevaba mascarilla.

«La prueba se realizaba en una carpa hospitalaria al aire libre, que tenía unos sistemas de ventilación ruidosos y donde los empleados sanitarios atendían a numerosas personas. Todo el mundo llevaba una mascarilla que le cubría la boca, por lo que me era imposible leer los labios», escribió. «Y la batería de mi implante coclear se agotó mientras me encontraba rellenando los formularios con un empleado sanitario”.

También tuiteó sobre su experiencia de voto presencial en las primarias, dado que su papeleta de votación en ausencia nunca le llegó por correo. «Tuve grandes dificultades en la mesa electoral porque tengo sordera. Tuve que pedirle a cada persona que repitiera lo que había dicho al menos dos veces debido a la mascarilla. Utilizo un implante coclear y pude conseguir averiguar lo que decían. Aun así, la experiencia no fue accesible».

Jake, un diseñador visual de experiencia de usuario/interfaz de usuario (UX/UI) que diseñó el sitio web de accessmasks.org, se propone demostrar que el diseño y la accesibilidad pueden ir fácilmente de la mano. «La accesibilidad y el diseño universal se ignoran o son «demasiado complicados» de lograr, aseguró Jake en una entrevista con la revista Clarke Speaks, la publicación para exalumnos de Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech a la que asistieron ambos hermanos en Northampton, Massachusetts. «Mi objetivo es acabar con estas nociones preconcebidas y demostrar cómo la accesibilidad puede ser fácilmente la norma».

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