Resource Materials and Technology Center for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing

What kind of facemasks are accessible for people who are deaf/hard of hearing?

Image of the coronavirus on a blackboard with eyes wearing a facemask.  On the bottom right corner of the chalk board is the RMTC-D/HH logo.  the background in palm ferns with an array of different color pencils lining the right side of the chalkboard.


Districts, schools, and/or teachers must be prepared to accommodate access to peer participation in instruction. Equitable access to language includes access to peer responses, questions, and even off-topic remarks. With regard to the use of masks in instructional settings including students who are deaf and hard of hearing, there are some important factors to consider.  

  • All masks, including those made from fabric as well as those with the clear plastic panels, may negatively impact the auditory signal produced by the speaker’s voice. A recent study indicated the attenuation, or interference, could be as much as 12 decibels in some masks. Schools and districts must be prepared to provide accessory measures to ensure equitable access to language, as stated in ADA Title II, whether that be through improved use of classroom amplification, captioned media, or visual supports such as notes provided ahead of time, use of graphic supports (e.g., pictures, diagrams, outlines), etc. 


  • Full fabric masks obscure critical visual information from a speaker’s face, making speechreading (see: lipreading) impossible for a communication partner relying on this support for comprehension. Students who are deaf or hard of hearing (D/HH) may not be able to understand spoken language without access to not only the speaker’s lips but their entire facial structure. They also block visual cues to students who are D/HH, including those who use sign language and need these visual facial cues to clarify manual communication. This is inclusive of but not limited to: mouth morphemes, non-verbal facial expressions that convey intensity, meaning, and purpose of a given sign, and grammatical information that is embedded within the facial expression paired with the sign. 


  • Full fabric facemasks can also limit the wearer’s visual field, which presents a hazard for walking. For students with limited or restricted vision, this obstruction may interfere with minimal residual vision manifesting in a child’s or adult’s ability to see very little. When paired with unfamiliar environments, like those students will be experiencing returning to new classrooms or new schools at the beginning of the year, this interference can make it difficult for students to move efficiently and safely around campus. Schools, districts, and teachers can improve this condition by allowing students an opportunity to practice traversing patterns they will be expected to navigate during the day. 


  • Clear-panel masks may afford some access to a speaker’s lips and mouth to support some speechreading, but may pose their own obstacles to accessibility. 

    • Careful consideration of the size and position of the clear panel must be made to ensure there is sufficient visual access to the entire mouth area in order to make speechreading and visual cues available. 

    • Respiration using a clear-panel mask may create condensation on the inside of the mask which defeats the purpose of the plastic window so anti-fogging efforts must be considered. 

    • Condensation also leads to the need for special cleaning procedures for the plastic window to ensure safety as well as hygiene.

    • Speakers with facial hair, specifically mustaches, may find the mask and the plastic window push down on the hairs, stick to the window, and otherwise interfere with visual access. 


  • Schools may be considering full-face shields as an alternative to cloth masks. While these shields may cost more initially, they may allow for improved visibility of the wearer’s face due to the transparency of the whole device. These shields are also much larger, making them easier to find and their hard surface can be cleaned with disinfectant and cloth. However, face shields are significantly heavier and wearers may fatigue more easily. Districts must also consider the open nature of the bottom of some shields. A solid-pattern fabric attached to the bottom of the shield completes the barrier.


Additional considerations for mask use with students who are DHH: 

  • Regardless of the style of the mask, the speaker's voice may not carry through the mask, resulting in a muffled version of the speaker's voice. Consideration should be taken when evaluating how to best utilize an amplification system to ensure that the student is not receiving an amplified distortion of speech, further blocking accessibility to his or her teacher and the academic environment. 


  • Pass-around microphones for soundfield amplification may not be feasible as they would be considered a shared supply, the utility of which is in direct opposition to the most recent CDC guidelines for opening schools. Teachers can accommodate this barrier to language by repeating what students say or ask. This is a best practice for many learners including English language learners, students with attention-based disabilities, those with auditory processing disorders, and those with other learning disabilities in addition to students who are deaf or hard of hearing. 


  • While masks are in use, it is imperative that a functional listening evaluation (FLE) be conducted to determine the rate and quality of access to the auditory signal for students who are deaf and hard of hearing. Ideally, an FLE should be conducted both WITH and WITHOUT amplification so the IEP team can determine if additional supports are necessary to ensure equitable access. 


Supporting Resources:

Statutes, TAPs, other legal references 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides considerations for wearing cloth face coverings.


FDA Approved Clear Facemasks:

Videos (TALive!, Pineapple PD, etc.)

CDC ASL Video Series


RMTC-D/HH has created a Wakelet for Facemasks for Students who are DHH*. 

*Note: Resources for the purchase of masks are rapidly evolving, therefore RMTC-D/HH is unable to provide an exhaustive list of where to purchase masks. Please feel free to contact us directly for further guidance. 


The Texas Sensory Support Network Deaf/Hard of Hearing Statewide Lead for D/HH Services created a Wakelet for Personal Protective Equipment and Accessibility. This list explores options for personal protective equipment (PPE) that provides accessibility. Please note this list may include masks that are not FDA approved, but could be used with social distancing.


Additional resources:


The information contained in the FAQs does not constitute legal advice. RMTC-D/HH does not endorse or sponsor any one product. Please refer to the original sources listed in each FAQ for more information.