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Hearing-impaired students to get special masks

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Dr. Nicole Paleka Zirzow uses a special face mask for hearing-impaired students that shows more of her face and mouth while thanking Lions Past District Governor Roy Nishida for the grant.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Dr. Nicole Paleka Zirzow accepts an award from the East Kaua‘i Lions Club Foundation Saturday that will enable her to get special face masks for Kaua‘i hearing-impaired students. From left are Lions Zone Chair Harvey Kinoshita, East Kaua‘i Lions President Janice Bond, Zirzow, Lions Past District Governor Roy Nishida, EK Lions Treasurer Larry Graff, and EK Lion John Ochoco.

LIHU‘E — “Huh?” “What did you say?”

Those would be likely responses from people who are deaf, hearing impaired or experiencing hearing loss, said Dr. Nicole Paleka Zirzow, a state Department of Education deaf and hearing program specialist working with students who have some level of hearing loss.

The East Kaua‘i Lions Club Foundation awarded Paleka Zirzow an award of $1,440 Saturday to purchase special face masks for students and those who work with students on Kaua‘i who are deaf or hard of hearing.

“The hearing impaired rely on lip reading to communicate,” said Lion Roy Nishida, a past district governor. “The funds will purchase 12 bundles of cloth masks, or 228 masks for individuals.”

Paleka Zirzow said cloth masks not only obscure the wearer’s mouth, preventing lip readng, but also cover much of the rest of the face.

“Cloth masks inhibit expressions that are integral to our interpersonal communications,” Paleka Zirzow said.

“Students are unable to see a simple, reassuring smile of support or encouragement. Missing information and misunderstanding information may cause increased stress, fatigue and anxiety for deaf and hard-of-hearing students who are largely isolated due to their hearing loss,” she said.

The masks intended for the hearing-impaired students feature a clear panel that allows an individual to see more of the face and mouth while offering protective qualities.

“On the island of Kaua‘i, we have approximately 65 students ages pre-K through grade 12 who have some level of hearing loss that impacts their education,” said Paleka Zirzow.

“These face masks will be for the students and their communication partners that include teachers and staff who work directly with them, peers in their class, and related service providers like (providers of) speech and language therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy.”

The grant from the Lions Club allows Paleka Zirzow to realize her goal of getting the special face masks for her hard-of-hearing students and their partners.

“The East Kaua‘i Lions Club has a long history of supporting the health and well being of Kaua‘i’s keiki,” she said. “This gift helps ensure all of our students have access to learning and communcation during this pandemic.”

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Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or dfujimoto@thegardenisland.com.

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