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“So, which mask is the best?”

    As itinerants, I’m sure we’ve all been asked this question by school teams. I also continue to see this question posted in forums and in Facebook groups. I’ve decided to answer it for you here. Get ready- it’s not a simple answer. 

At the start of the pandemic, there were all types of recommendations for students who are deaf or hard of hearing and their teachers and support teams. Clear masks! No, face shields and masks! No, full hoods! No, wait- the auditory signal isn’t great- surgical masks! Quick speech recognition studies were conducted (I participated in a few); patterns for homemade masks of every style appeared all over the internet. Websites popped up selling every style of mask imaginable. Professionals created charts and graphs. Schools emailed and called me, desperately looking for guidance in what to purchase. 
So, you’re wondering, what exactly is the best mask?! Well, it depends on the student. At the start of this year, I had several students attending school in some in-person capacity whether full- or part-time. I told my students outright that I don’t have all the answers. We’ve all been thrust into this experiment together (however willing or unwilling we are as participants) so we might as well do the best research that we can. It IS ok to change your mind. Rather than one mask, I tried a wide array of options and suggested others do the same. I’ve found that each student has a clear preference and as educational teams, those preferences have been accommodated. 
One high schooler who is a very auditory learner prefers that her teachers wear the surgical style masks for improved auditory access. Another high school student uses more visual information and reported that his preference was a style of mask with an oversized clear window to really optimize speech reading. All clear window masks are not the same and students may need to try a variety, as this student did, in order to find one that works. My little three-year-old may not have much language but she sure does know how to communicate her mask preferences! After only one session spent with her attempting to pull my mask away and gesturing frantically so that she could see my face, I now wear a clear shield with a fabric bottom for our sessions so that she can see my entire face. Our students are the experts. We teach them to advocate and this is no different. Access matters and our job as itinerants is to help our students find what’s safe and what works best for them and implement that into their school day. 
Masks will likely be part of our lives for quite a while. It’s worth it to take the time to experiment now so that our students can confidently advocate for their preferences and have the best access we are able to provide. 
A Note from Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech 
Clarke approaches PPE carefully in both practice and purchase. We continue to evaluate and test PPE including face coverings. Clarke does not endorse or recommend any particular PPE for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Clarke follows health and safety guidelines set by the CDC, Departments of Health as well as regional Departments of Education.  

Hear Me Out

Hear Me Out is produced by Mainstream Services at Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech as part of our mission to support children with hearing loss and the professionals who serve them.

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About the Hear Me Out Blog

Itinerant teachers of the deaf (TOD) provide direct services to children with hearing loss in mainstream schools, consultation to their teachers, and professional development to school staff. Itinerant TODs travel to a child’s neighborhood school to provide one-on-one educational support, foster listening and spoken language development, and help children build social and self-advocacy skills. They also act as a liaison between the family and their mainstream school. Hear Me Out provides a unique forum for these special teachers to share their experiences as they grow as professionals.

Hear Me Out is produced by Mainstream Services at Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech as part of our mission to support children with hearing loss and the professionals who serve them.

Hear Me Out Blog

About the Author

Heather Stinson (CAGS, MED, S/LP-A) received her master’s degree in Education of the Deaf from Smith College in 2006 and a graduate certificate in Children, Families, and Schools (with a concentration in research methodology) from the University of Massachusetts in 2012. In addition to her many years of experience working with children with hearing loss who communicate using listening and spoken language, Heather has also worked as a preschool classroom teacher.

Heather has presented both locally and nationally on issues related to mainstreaming students with hearing loss and is a contributing author to Odyssey magazine. Heather currently works as an itinerant teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing at Clarke Mainstream Services, a program of Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech.

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