Clear face masks help deaf community during pandemic

FRESNO, Calif. -- Face masks are being used to help slow down the spread of COVID-19, but they're creating a unique issue for the deaf community - one that a Fresno woman is hoping to help with.

Rosa Strobal is deaf and has raised three deaf children. When she came to the United States from Mexico, she made crafts to help support her family. That skillset came in handy after her daughter-in-law asked if she could sew a mask for her - and then asked if she could sew one with a clear mouth.

"She said, 'would you mind making me another mask that has a clear cutout over the mouth?' I was scared and excited at the same time," Strobel said through an interpreter. "From there on I loved it. I wanted to do it more and more and more. So instead of quilts, I changed my focus to masks and I started making masks and masks with the windows."

Strobal was joined by Rosemary Wanis. She's hard of hearing and a certified deaf interpreter who says the need for the deaf community to see mouths and expressions is incredibly important.

"It's important to read the lips," Wanis said through an interpreter. "The communication becomes more clear. If you can't see the mouth, then it's easy to misunderstand, and communication falls off. You're not sure if they're mad or happy," she explained.

Strobel makes and ships the masks out of her Fresno home. She says she's mailed them to Las Vegas, northern and southern California and more. To this point, she's received orders for about 250 masks, and more than 75 of them are the kind with the clear mouths.

"I saw people smile and I was so excited and I could see them laugh and frown... that's cool," Strobel said. I don't know how to explain it, I feel really happy and relieved. They can understand and they can see their smile. I feel happy."

If you'd like to order a mask, you can reach Rosa at 559-478-2137. She receives her calls through a deaf interpreting service.

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