For the hearing-impaired, lip-reading in a society full of mask-wearers is practically impossible.
However, the MTSU Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic refuses to let COVID-19 conquer their work. Since September, the staffers and student clinicians at the clinic on the first floor of the university’s Alumni Memorial Gym have worn clear plastic masks and face shields.
“In order to do speech therapy, they have to be able to see your mouth,” said clinic coordinator Elizabeth Smith. “Therapists use a variety of clear masks.”
The masks purchased by the clinic are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and while Smith said they are not particularly comfortable, they don’t fog up when users exhale as much as other clear masks.
She said no one, including the clinic’s youngest clients, has refused to wear a mask.
“Even the little ones, as soon as they come in, they get their temperature taken,” Smith said. “They go to the bathroom. They wash their hands. They put their masks on.”
Madison Hoback, a speech/language pathology and audiology major from Nashville, Tennessee, is one of the student clinicians who has adjusted to working while wearing the masks. She works with Riggs King, a first grader who struggles with language comprehension.
“I think it’s easier with the clear masks … because then he can see and hear better,” Hoback said. “I think that the actual coverings kind of muffle your voice.”
Because of the pandemic, the clinic could not operate in the spring and summer. Smith and her colleagues spent the summer designing protocols for opening safely and hygienically for fall 2020.
Smith said all their clients, with the exception of two who with health concerns, decided to come back in the fall. All the student clinicians returned to the clinic.
“Every single one of them wanted to return because they know that this is a unique opportunity,” Smith said.
For the sake of establishing a comfortably mask-free rapport, clinicians and clients were outside and six feet apart for their first day together in September to more easily see each other’s entire faces.
“Our students have been wonderful,” Smith said. “I couldn’t be more proud of them. They have done everything we have asked them to do.”
For more information about the Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic at MTSU, go to www.mtsu.edu/programs/communication-disorders, or contact Smith at 615-898-2662 or Elizabeth.Smith@mtsu.edu.
— Gina Logue (firstname.lastname@example.org)