James Wiggins, an American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreter at the Brigham for more than 15 years, started using transparent masks five years ago for the deaf, hard of hearing, and elderly populations in situations where communication with a mask was not effective, such as the operating room or during labor. With the COVID-19 epidemic and the requirement for all staff to wear face masks, Wiggins and his team raised the concern that more transparent face masks would be needed to support this patient population during COVID-19. Together with the MGB COVID Disability Task Force, the masks were quickly procured and are now distributed widely throughout the hospital to ensure no patient is left behind.
“ Since the pandemic started we found it even more important to use masks with a transparency window. ” — James Wiggins.
“Since the pandemic started we found it even more important to use masks with a transparency window. Many of the older patients that I see went to oral school, so they didn’t learn sign language and are more adept at reading lips, so in instances like COVID, having the mask covering my lips isn’t effective. This clear mask enables them to be able to read my lips and communicate with me,” says Wiggins.
Wiggins says that the masks have been very effective for this patient population. “You can see the relief that comes over the patient when they are able to look and see the person's lips moving. And if they miss something, they know I am right there to interpret in their native language.”
Wigging credits his adopted father, who is deaf and also reads lips, for always stressing the importance of communication. “That is a legacy that I'm proud to carry on and it is my lifelong goal to make my father proud and also serve our community.”