Teen’s mask project is a golden lesson
In an era of a global pandemic, masks have become the social norm in what could be deemed as the first line of defense. It’s hard to imagine a world without them after almost an entire year of mask mandates and limited outings.
But this nationwide challenge of protection also creates a nationwide challenge of communication for a group that has been hit even more severely: the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.
Masks serve as a prominent hindrance to deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals who rely on lip-reading and facial expressions to understand helpful cues needed for proper communication. In fact, the National Association of the Deaf has stated that “more and more medical professionals are treating COVID- 19 patients from behind a barrier, using masks that impede lip-reading, and not allowing in-person interpreters.”
However, there is a solution to this persistent problem.
Neil Pandey, a 15-year-old sophomore from American Leadership Academy, has led the initiative within the Valley to create masks that are designed for deaf and hard-of-hearing people to safely and effectively communicate. The masks consist of a clear window sewn into the cloth to allow both facial cues and lip movements to be read by surrounding people.
After taking American Sign Language classes in school, he realized that the deaf and hard-of-hearing community would face significant hindrances in holding conversations during the pandemic.
He then proceeded to develop a prototype by utilizing a template for the clear window masks and began the sewing process by getting some help from family members and friends. He also started a GoFundMe page for materials, which has raised over $2,200 in support for his project. It was imperative that these masks could be accessible and of high quality made with care, and Neil ensured just that, creating around 1,500 masks to be donated to local grocery stores and health care facilities.
His message is clear: “It’s important to empathize with members of the community in a time like this and see what we can do for them. I wanted to create something that would allow them to properly communicate on the same level as anyone else.”
When additionally asked about which pillar of the Golden Rule he thought his project best represented, he confidently responded by saying “kindness and empathy.” He added, “I believe that understanding (the deaf and hardof- hearing)’s challenges during the pandemic and creating the masks out of this sense of kindness is a valuable lesson.”
Through the immense consideration and inspiring passion to help others highlighted from his hard work with this mask project, Neil perfectly exemplifies the core essence of the Golden Rule and how we as regular citizens can utilize our privileges to do good for our community, no matter the age. He reflects a profound story about transcending the limitations of one’s challenges and going beyond to help those in need.
His journey does not stop here, though. For the future, he plans on expanding this project to other parts of Arizona and maybe even other states. The main focus will be to allow commercialized clear-window masks to be widely accessible and attainable.
Anusha Rahman works on the Live-GoldenAZ project and is a junior at Hamilton High School.
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Anusha Rahman Guest columnist