Homemade masks by California teen make life easier for hard-of-hearing

Isabella Appell created "Talking Masks," sewing face masks with a see-through window to help people read lips.

Posted: Jul 21, 2020 9:07 AM


When Karma Quick-Panwala was pregnant with her second child, she didn't anticipate relying on the help of a 17-year-old stranger, living almost 400 miles away, during her delivery.

Quick-Panwala, who describes herself as severely hard of hearing, relies on lip reading to communicate. She says midway through her pregnancy, as the Covid-19 crisis began, she was concerned she wouldn't be able to communicate with doctors and nurses when they were wearing protective masks.

Read more: These moms wore masks while giving birth. You can wear one to the grocery store, they say

"I like to say lip reading is my superpower and masks are my kryptonite," said Quick-Panwala. "I'm completely cut off from communication unless I have someone come speak to me personally so that I can lip read to understand what's being said. I knew right away I was going to need some form of communication access."

Her doctors at Sutter Health's California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco helped to ease her concerns, offering transcription services for her prenatal appointments. But as her due date grew near, she knew she'd need something more in order to follow the doctor's real-time instructions in the delivery room.

That's where Isabella Appell, 17, comes in. The high school junior from Thousand Oaks, California, has been making face masks since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Alarmed by reports of a lack of available face masks in the early days of the pandemic, Appell sprang into action.

Appell is not hard of hearing, but said she has always been interested in learning sign language and is part of several Facebook groups for deaf people.

"I noticed that there were a lot of comments about how scary it was for them right now and how hard it was for them to communicate," said Appell. "I started researching on how I could accommodate these masks for everybody."

Appell created Talking Masks, a small venture that makes masks featuring a clear plastic window. She cuts the fabric from a template she created, then sews the masks and inserts a piece of clear plastic vinyl over the mouth. She applies a de-fogging spray to the final product, so it doesn't steam up when in use.

Since March, when the pandemic closed her high school, Appell has been emailing with and taking orders from customers -- then diligently sewing the masks, day and night, from her upstairs bedroom.

Isabella's mother, Renee Appell, is awed by her daughter's dedication to supporting the deaf community during the pandemic, while at the same time still keeping up with her demanding schoolwork.

"She would do homework or study until 10 or 11 at night, and then would cut and sew until two or three in the morning and start the whole process over again early the next morning," said Renee Appell. "When she finds something she believes in, she gives it everything she has, and she is dedicated to this cause like nothing we've seen before."

So far, Isabella Appell said she has made more than 300 masks. Anyone can order a mask from the website. All she asks is that those who want or need a mask make a small donation and pay the shipping fee. The money from the donations all goes to the Hearing Aid Project, a nonprofit group that supplies hearing aids to those who can't afford them.

Once the masks are ready, Renee takes them to the post office while Isabella does her homework. Her mom says the masks have brought the family closer together. "We've all helped in little ways," Renee Appell said. "It's become a family project: setting up the website, photography, responding to emails, preparing the masks for shipping, delivery to the post office and other things."

Isabella Appell said she would like to continue Talking Masks through the summer and beyond, at least until the pandemic is over. But as Covid-19 cases continue to rise around the US, and with an estimated 11.5 million people across the country having some form of hearing loss, Appell knows the demand for these masks will be much greater than can be solved by a single pair of hands.

Read more: This new high-tech glove translates sign language into speech in real time

"I think the biggest challenge is just getting the materials," Isabella Appell said. "I personally love making these masks. I would do it in my free time. I would do it all the time. But I am short on materials, so I would really appreciate any type of fabric donation or help sewing."

Appell isn't alone in working to address the need. Even before Covid-19, back in July 2016, a San Francisco nurse received a $95,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop and test transparent masks; in the medical community, where protective masks are prevalent, this is not a new issue for those who are hard of hearing -- but it has been exacerbated by the current pandemic.

As for Quick-Panwala, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy named Axel on June 6. It was a smooth delivery, for which she credits attentive doctors and their willingness to wear the Talking Masks that Isabella Appell sewed and sent to her.

"Having the masks available ... really made a huge difference in my being able to communicate in the delivery room. There would have been so much that I missed out on," Quick-Panwala said.

"That, as a teenager, this is what [Isabella] chose to focus on -- to facilitate our need for access and help the deaf community be able to communicate in this time -- I'm so grateful that her interest in this area led her to do this," she said, "and to help me and the many other people who have been stuck between having to communicate and having to wear these masks."

Terre Haute
Clear
30° wxIcon
Hi: 40° Lo: 24°
Feels Like: 30°
Robinson
Partly Cloudy
29° wxIcon
Hi: 40° Lo: 26°
Feels Like: 29°
Indianapolis/Eagle Creek
Clear
27° wxIcon
Hi: 34° Lo: 21°
Feels Like: 27°
Paris
Clear
28° wxIcon
Hi: 38° Lo: 22°
Feels Like: 22°
Mattoon/Charleston
Clear
29° wxIcon
Hi: 39° Lo: 24°
Feels Like: 23°
Terre Haute
Clear
30° wxIcon
Hi: 39° Lo: 23°
Feels Like: 30°
Terre Haute
Clear
30° wxIcon
Hi: 39° Lo: 22°
Feels Like: 30°
Clearer Sky
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

Latest Video

Image

All You Need to Know for Tuesday

Image

Tuesday: Clouds move out, cold. High: 36

Image

Tyreke Key moves into Top 10

Image

IHSAA Moves Boys State

Image

GBB North Central Orleans

Image

Tracking light snow - how long will it stick around?

Image

How you can avoid carbon monoxide poisoning

Image

NAACP installs new committee members during Monday meeting

Image

West Terre Haute armed robbery under investigation

Image

Marshall, Illinois town meeting

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Cases: 1072214

Reported Deaths: 20118
CountyCasesDeaths
Cook4343419046
DuPage689701151
Will58209870
Lake53227886
Kane45873676
Winnebago26265407
Madison24262463
St. Clair22191426
McHenry21591248
Champaign1539099
Peoria14966239
Sangamon14477234
McLean13170159
Tazewell11885245
Rock Island11860302
Kankakee11465179
Kendall966678
LaSalle9427247
Macon8794179
Vermilion7470112
DeKalb743792
Adams7337117
Williamson6166116
Boone553277
Whiteside5250173
Clinton500685
Coles469880
Ogle458971
Knox4579141
Grundy435954
Effingham430668
Jackson416867
Henry400776
Marion3970111
Franklin382969
Macoupin382694
Randolph371468
Livingston363566
Monroe356170
Stephenson352474
Jefferson3421104
Morgan325289
Woodford318766
Logan308356
Montgomery303841
Lee303172
Bureau299784
Christian297973
Fayette290653
Perry266560
Iroquois258756
Fulton255349
Jersey220656
Lawrence217230
McDonough214451
Saline202153
Douglas198733
Union197332
Shelby196435
Crawford175534
Cass174831
Bond173524
Warren158244
Pike154246
Richland153544
Wayne151143
Jo Daviess148224
Hancock147634
Clark147430
Washington144625
Edgar143253
Carroll142633
Ford138049
Moultrie137028
White133130
Clay130939
Greene125442
Johnson121015
Wabash117214
Mercer117029
Piatt116816
Mason116340
De Witt113927
Cumberland107927
Jasper103815
Massac101831
Menard87110
Hamilton71617
Marshall66413
Schuyler61916
Pulaski6103
Brown60811
Stark49320
Edwards4609
Henderson45216
Calhoun4384
Alexander3897
Gallatin3864
Scott3751
Putnam3462
Hardin3028
Pope2462
Unassigned990
Out of IL370

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Cases: 592709

Reported Deaths: 9340
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion818931301
Lake44495668
Allen32035543
Hamilton28533305
St. Joseph26847372
Elkhart24132341
Vanderburgh18759213
Tippecanoe17482122
Johnson14583285
Porter14464160
Hendricks13931242
Madison10600213
Vigo10513174
Clark10300132
Monroe9109108
Delaware8861133
LaPorte8825155
Howard7916138
Kosciusko788877
Warrick648290
Hancock642597
Bartholomew629294
Floyd6184105
Wayne5956157
Grant5848110
Dubois546172
Boone536367
Morgan519491
Henry496164
Marshall494984
Cass473160
Noble462157
Dearborn461344
Jackson416145
Shelby404279
Lawrence382075
Clinton366340
Gibson357856
DeKalb338563
Montgomery336651
Harrison332642
Knox328239
Miami311243
Steuben308742
Adams296535
Whitley295525
Wabash293945
Ripley293745
Putnam286847
Huntington285058
Jasper284434
White268438
Daviess262172
Jefferson253138
Decatur242882
Fayette242448
Greene235660
Posey232826
Wells230147
LaGrange224761
Clay218732
Scott217337
Randolph209041
Jennings193235
Sullivan189331
Spencer182717
Fountain180425
Washington178218
Starke172041
Jay163122
Fulton160230
Owen160137
Carroll153015
Orange152133
Rush150818
Perry148727
Vermillion145533
Franklin143833
Parke12908
Tipton128432
Pike114125
Blackford108022
Pulaski95137
Newton89721
Brown85730
Benton84510
Crawford7669
Martin70413
Warren6607
Switzerland6235
Union6145
Ohio4707
Unassigned0374