With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, masks have become an indispensable part of everyone's life as it plays a key role in preventing the spread of the infection and protecting an individual from contracting any airborne infections.
However, with standard masks covering half of the face, communication becomes a challenge for the people with hearing and speech disabilities.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), over 5% of the world's population or a staggering 466 million people has disabling hearing loss includes which 432 million adults and 34 million children.
Deaf and hard of hearing people rely on lipreading and facial expressions to communicate and blocking half of the face obstructs the communication channel.
Stepping up to solve the problem, philanthropist Kulsum Shadab Wahab's Hothur Foundation has come up with an innovative idea that would help the country's deaf and hard of hearing communities during the coronavirus crisis.
Hothur Foundation has been tirelessly working towards the betterment of the marginalised section of the society including the girl child education, working for differently-abled kids, and most importantly rehabilitating and empowering the acid attack survivors.
The acid attack survivors associated with the foundation have been engaged in designing and creating handmade headgears. Now, the survivors have started crafting masks keeping in mind the need to read lip movements.
Speaking to The Logical Indian, Kulsum says, "Le Mots mean words. These are the masks for the specially-abled which have the area around lips made of transparent material, giving them a chance to read lips and make communication easier."
"The Le Mots masks have been made by the acid attack survivors with the utmost compassion and their need to make the world a better and easier place. I feel really proud of their creativity and talent," she adds.
Speaking on how they came up with the idea to design such masks, the philanthropist says "the livelihood of most of the acid attack survivor women depends on sewing. They are into making accessories for women survivors' empowerment project, Ara Lumiere. While working closely with the differently-abled, one of the survivors realised the problems faced by them during the pandemic."
"First, the risk of being exposed to the virus and second, they could not communicate without reading lip movements which wearing a mask made impossible. It was her genius to design a mask with a see-through front, preventing the specially-abled from exposure while facilitating communication," Kulsum tells The Logical Indian.
She further pointed out that barrier to communication can have a significant impact on people's everyday life which can lead to feelings of loneliness, isolation, and frustration among the specially-abled.
Speaking on the way COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the lives of the survivors, Kulsum says," Many of them were facing severe domestic violence during the lockdown situation induced by the pandemic. At the time, we had women taking shelter at our safe homes providing them with professional counselling and aiding them with financial and legal support. Employment insecurity, lack of food, abusive husbands caused further troubles to them and their children."
The foundation has created a safe haven for the survivors during the pandemic and is providing for all their requirements which includes food, medical needs, psychological assistance and livelihood.
"When the lockdown started, we had to wear masks everywhere. During our therapy meets I saw my peer struggling to keep the mask on while trying to talk and listen. That is how I got the idea of making a see-through mask which will help my friends who are physically challenged to talk and listen easily, said Sarojini, one of the survivors.
Commending her team for the selfless display of empathy, Kulsum says, "Le Mot is a work of genius. I was proud to see Sarojini come up with this brilliant idea of a transparent mask. We have always believed in the interdependency of our causes, one group helping the another just like a family, and the thought behind this mask has truly lived up to our beliefs."