June 4, 2020

Clear Face Mask Drive For Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community Organized By Family Medicine Staff

In a span of a month, research assistant Kate Panzer led efforts to make and distribute nearly 500 clear face masks for Deaf and hard of hearing people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kate Panzer sitting next to table stacked with clear face masks
Kate Panzer, research assistant, organized a clear face mask drive, producing and distributing nearly 500 masks to the deaf and hard of hearing community across the United States.

Kate Panzer, family medicine and MDisability research assistant, found a way to give back during the COVID-19 pandemic through her efforts on serving the Deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) communities. Many DHH people rely on lip reading to help with their communication needs. The widespread use of face masks have posed a unique challenge for the DHH community. Face masks with a built in window of clear material offer a potential solution. Panzer recently mobilized a team to help design and develop large volumes of clear masks—nearly 500 clear masks to date.  

During her undergraduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania, Panzer took four semesters of American Sign Language courses with Jami Fisher, Ed.D., director of Penn’s American Sign Language and Deaf Studies Program. Panzer reached out to her former professor with the idea to make and distribute clear face masks. Fisher put her in touch with the Deaf-Hearing Communication Centre (DHCC, a non-profit located in Pennsylvania)

Working closely with the DHCC, Panzer tested and modified multiple clear face masks before settling on the current design. Once set, Ms. Panzer set up outreach campaigns to help make and distribute the masks to those in need. At the time of reporting in late May, Panzer and her partners at the DHCC have distributed almost 500 masks to people in twelve states. Read more about her work, featured on the University of Pennsylvania blog.

Panzer will continue the work in Michigan as she begins medical training  at the University of Michigan Medical School in the summer 2020. She has been awarded support from the U-M Medical School’s M0 Summer Impact Accelerator to expand the supply of clear face masks to Deaf and hard of hearing communities across Michigan. Panzer plans to partner with Michigan-based DHH organizations to ensure appropriate collaboration with the community.

MDisabilty Program director and associate professor of family medicine Michael M. McKee, M.D., M.P.H. commended the clear face mask program initiated by Panzer, stating

“Deaf and hard of hearing communities are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Their ability to communicate with others are now further disrupted. Efforts such as Ms. Panzer’s work in developing clear face masks are helping to mitigate some of these adverse impacts while still allowing for them to adhere to existing COVID-19 guidelines.”

Panzer currently works as a research assistant for the MDisability Program. She is also the audio producer for the Docs With Disabilities podcast, started by Lisa Meeks, Ph.D., assistant professor. Panzer and Meeks published an article in the journal Medical Education on mentorship and podcasting. 

READ ALSO: Monthly Podcast Shares The Stories of #DocsWithDisabilities