Read her lips: Clear masks help hearing impaired

Jennifer Bebee, an audiologist at Western Colorado Hearing & Balance in Grand Junction, models a clear face mask. (Photo courtesy Western Colorado Hearing & Balance)

Jennifer Bebee noticed yet another result of the coronavirus pandemic, this one affecting her hearing impaired patients.

“With the coronavirus pandemic, we’re all wearing masks. If you already struggle to hear, the masks not only muffle one’s voice, but it makes it impossible to read lips,” Bebee said. “I knew I needed to help come up with a solution locally and quickly.”

Working with a quilting shop, the Grand Junction audiologist devised cloth face masks with clear plastic around the mouth that enables the hearing impaired to read lips.

Western Colorado Hearing & Balance, the clinic Bebee owns, offers the masks at no charge, but asks that recipients make a donation to Kids Aid. The clinic also will donate $15 for each mask to the organization providing food for hungry children.

Nina Christ, a patient of Bebee’s, received one of the masks for her husband to wear. She said the mask has made a difference. “When were out in public, I was really struggling to hear him. With the background noise, combined with muffled sound coming from behind his mask, I just couldn’t make anything out. Now that I can read his lips, it’s a lifesaver.”

Bebee enlisted the help of the Owls Nest Quilters shop in Grand Junction to create a pattern and make masks for her patients. The shop didn’t want payment and instead asked that Western Colorado Hearing & Balance donate to Kids Aid.

Bebee said she was happy to do so. “This is truly a win-win. We are helping our patients communicate better while feeding local kids who may otherwise go hungry during this time.”

While Owls Nest Quilters has taken a break from making the masks, Bebee said she hopes people with sewing skills making clear face masks for their use would consider making an additional one to donate to the practice. A pattern and instructions are available online at www.wchearingclinic.com.