Eloise Schwarz (right) and Jacky Wyatt (left) modeling their homemade clear masks.

By Faith Miller

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the new need for the use of masks has impacted the deaf and hearing-impaired communities’ ability to communicate due to their incapability to read lips through masks.

Eloise Schwarz from the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) along with many others have been determined to help with this issue to improve communication between everyone. After brainstorming multiple ideas with colleagues, she believes she has come up with an answer that could help everyone: clear masks.

During her time as a nurse before retirement, Schwaz had experienced the concept of ‘windowed masks’ in the workplace, so when the issue arose during the pandemic of no longer being able to read lips, she saw an opportunity.

“As a nurse, we had masks years ago where we had the window on the mask, and that allowed for us to read lips,” said Schwarz, “because a nurse years ago created one that was FDA-approved … but they are not available because they are for frontline health workers.”

After hearing this, her colleagues then suggested the idea of her making the mask. She told them that she could, but did not have the funds to make it a reality since the cost of making them would be so high. A friend then recommended to her the idea of applying for a grant to get the funds she needed. Since then, she has received two grants courtesy of the Sun City Center Men’s Club and the Communication Foundation of Tampa Bay.

“I was amazed,” said Schwarz. “I worked through the community to get some [people] to help me and they all jumped on and helped me work through different kinds of masks.”

Due to her sewing hobby, Schwarz was able to begin making her masks along with her colleagues and recently reached 1,000 masks last year. She continues to make and distribute them to those in need today.

For more information regarding the HLAA, visit https://www.hla-fl.org. For more information on Schwarz and her story, visit her page at https://www.hla-fl.org/why-clear-masks-with-eloise-schwarz/.

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