- The transparent masks being made by NIEPVD use biodegradable plastic
- Without transparent masks, communication is difficult for deaf and elders
- Traditional masks block faces and prevent lip reading
New Delhi: In February, when the COVID-19 pandemic was in its earlier stages, a group of children in a colony in Uttarakhand’s Dehradun were being given a talk on how to keep themselves safe from the virus. A few minutes into the lecture, the two experts donning face masks noticed some children staring at them in a state of confusion. On being asked, they said that they couldn’t understand anything since the mouths of the speakers were covered and they were unable to lip read or decipher the facial expressions. This was an eye-opener for Professor Nachiketa Rout, one of the two experts, who then decided to make the kind of mask which can address the needs of people with hearing impairment amidst COVID-19 outbreak.
While talking to NDTV, Professor Rout, an audiologist and Director of the National Institute for the Empowerment of Persons with Visual Disabilities (NIEPVD), Dehradun said,
Regular masks make it impossible to lip read or understand visual cues, posing a limitation for hearing impaired people. Now the time is such that we all need to wear masks in our daily lives. This is how our new reality is going to be. But we must not forget that those people who have any kind of hearing difficulties, be it the deaf or the senior citizens with fading hearing and even those little children who have learning disabilities like sensory auditory processing disorder, are all dependent on lip reading. Transparent masks provide a solution to such a situation.
According to Professor Rout, NIEPVD, an institute under the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MoSJE), has made 800 see-trough masks till now out of which 250 have been distributed to Dehradun Police and the rest to the children, staff members and their families on campus.
Professor Rout further said that post COVID-19, daily activities have become difficult for everyone, but people with hearing impairments are facing the even worse situation. All essential items providers, policemen, doctors, bank staff and others have their face covered which becomes a barrier for people with hearing difficulties while communicating with these people. He said,
If all essential items/service providers wear see-through masks, it will become easier for people with difficulty in hearing to deal with them.
NIEPVD has established a committee for implementing safety and preventive measures on campus to fight against COVID-19. A few members of this committee are dedicated towards the transparent mask initiative. Professor Rout said,
We have tailors here who found out the right kind of cotton material to be used in manufacturing masks that are effective against coronavirus. We prepared the prototypes and got those tested by doctors. The only limitation was that while speak fog develops on the plastic but this can be easily prevented by applying a thin film of any body lotion on it.
He also highlighted that the transparent plastic sheet used in making masks is biodegradable as it is made from the sugarcane fibre. He said,
The entire Uttrakhand-Uttar Pradesh belt is sugarcane belt and here at many places, the sugarcane fibre is used to make biodegradable plastic called bio-polypropylene. So we thought why not use it while making the mask. It is more eco-friendly and can be cleaned easily.
Professor Rout also added once the mass scale productions start in the campus, the cost of the special transparent mask will be Rs. 35. The cost of a normal mask is usually around Rs. 20.
Transparent masks are also important for security reasons, he said. Explaining further, Professor Rout said,
There is a bank in our campus and when wearing masks became mandatory in our campus, the manager of the bank told me that it can be hazardous for security as the bank CCTV cameras will not be able to capture the face of the miscreant, in case of the breach of security. We have provided them with some transparent masks and the manager has also asked all its customers to enter the bank wearing only transparent face masks.
Professor Rout shared that the institution has presented a proposal to the MoSJE for scaling up the production and to take up mask making a skill development activity in NIEPVD.
NDTV reached out to an official at MoSJE who said,
Transparent masks can surely address the needs of the hearing-impaired community. Considering this, the ministry is working towards it and apart from NIEPVD, two other institutions of Ministry are also in the process of producing transparent masks.
The Tamil Nadu State Commissionerate for the Welfare of Persons with Disabilities has also recently launched transparent face masks for persons with hearing impairments. According to an official, a total of 81,000 masks are to be distributed to nearly 13,500 persons with disabilities, as well as their parents, other close family members, caregivers, classmates and teachers as part of a pilot project.
According to the Population Census- 2011, there are 26.7 lakh men and 23.9 lakh women in India who suffer from some degree of hearing impairment. Experts assert that transparent masks can help them have barrier-free communication while keeping themselves safe.