New PPE hybrid seeks to help those hard of hearing, deaf

Published: Jul. 31, 2020 at 10:12 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A new design of PPE seeks to blend face masks and shields, to help those needing to see to communicate.

The Badger Shield+ comes out of the Makerspace at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It is a clear shield that covers the face and is sealed at the bottom by a fabric.

“The gold standard in general is the face mask plus face shield. For some reason, if that [combination] doesn’t work for them, the Badger Shield+ is an amazing option that didn’t exist before,” director Lennon Rodgers explained.

His team designed and prototyped the product at UW Health’s request: some patients needed to see their clinicians’ mouths to communicate.

Midwest Prototyping, based in Madison, is currently the only manufacturer of the Badger Shield+. According to Rodgers, the largest order requests have come from schools, located around the nation.

Simone Frame, a speech-language pathologist, said she was interested in learning more about the product.

As her clinic Launch Therapies prepares to reopen, Frame said she ordered transparent masks for the time. Without them, she said, “It’s going to be more difficult to work on articulation therapy, language, even literacy, if we can’t see each others’ mouths.

Frame also described how masks pose similar challenges to those who have autism and are deaf or hard of hearing.

Her mother—Sharon—wears a hearing aid.

“I want her to feel as at ease as possible when she’s talking to me and feel that she can understand what I’m saying and that I’m helping to facilitate her communication,” Frame said.

Sharon described two instances earlier that day when she could not understand someone through a mask. “I’m also a little bit embarrassed to have to keep asking someone over and over to repeat themselves,” she said. “Other people get frustrated about that as well. It’s one of those things where I’d like to understand somebody the first time.”

Sharon and Simone agreed that clear communication is a “two-way street.”

Simone talked to her mother about clear PPE: “Is it the listener who needs it? The speaker who needs it? It’s both.”

The Badger Shield+, while in production, is still being tested for efficacy. According to Rodgers, initial studies have shown that it protects better than a traditional face shield, though the question now is how it compares to the shield and mask worn together.

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