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Communicating during COVID-19, and the hope for a better future

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CSI

As a member of the CSI community, I am mindful everyday of the joy of belonging. From the very first moment I entered the Annex location, CSI embraced me, respected me, and invited me to co-create. It immediately felt like home. Everyone here is passionate, committed, loving, kind, and supportive of each other. My work is valued; I find shared values here. Our CSI community is inclusive; and welcomes the diversity of opinions, skills, and beliefs that makes our world rich.

I’ve been thankful to be able to use CSI co-creation ideologies in my personal (and professional!) quest to ensure effective communication. And while COVID-19 has changed what that looks like, it hasn’t slowed me down at all. If anything, this virus presents an unbelievable opportunity. Suddenly, people who do not ordinarily have challenges with accessible communication are experiencing what is my everyday lived reality. With business staff wearing masks and working behind plexiglass screens, everyone is experiencing less clarity from audio information. This has enhanced the usefulness of my skills — honed from having hearing loss for 25+ years — to help a wider number of people who are now struggling to hear well.

Plexiglass screens dampen sound, making it harder to hear the person you are speaking to. Masks make lip-reading — which we all rely on when we can’t hear clearly — impossible. They also block facial expressions which we all rely on to get information, particularly people who are not operating in their first language.

My son recently commented that “people will only do something about a problem if it directly affects them.” Well with over half of Torontonians being New Canadians, and at least 20% of any given population having a significant hearing loss, this means 70% of people in Toronto alone are now being directly affected by communication challenges related to this pandemic.

To help solve these challenges, my company POW Hearing is offering two new products and services.

The first is a point of sale instant captioning system for retail and takeout counters. This device allows the staff person behind the plexiglass to speak into a microphone, and immediately have their words appear on a wifi enabled device screen.

We are also developing and producing a face mask with a clear plastic panel that allows for lipreading (and smiling!). I’m looking to convince big box stores who have lots of employees that the clear window mask, being re-usable, and very customer friendly, is a very good option for them. (Big chain drug stores, supermarkets, retail stores, and the like.) I have decided to learn to sew, as making masks might be more cheap than ready-made masks and then modifying them to add a plastic screen.

Knowing how quickly our community responds to expressed needs, and seeing the desire to share in my success has been a blessing beyond description. So here are some things I need help with right now. If you can help with any of these things, you can email laura@powhearing.com.

  1. Being connected with suppliers willing to donate 100% cotton fabric in solid colours
  2. Having folks volunteer their time as to help me with sewing
  3. Finding a spot where I can store materials and manufacture masks.
  4. Being introduced to people who make purchasing decisions

Even before this pandemic, the CSI community has increased awareness, broadened our ability to understand people’s perspectives, and allowed us all to appreciate and value our different superpowers.

When I think of our post-COVID future, I have hope that these ideals will spread across the country.

Pooling our resources (by way of our tax dollars) was the basis for providing a majority of the federal financial relief during the first few months of C-19. My hope is that we as a country never return to the simplistic ideology of balancing a budget, at the cost of supporting each other.

Most of the supports our current minority government has provided happened because the parties realized they had to act differently. They negotiated behind the scenes for collective supports, rather than daily Parliamentary routines of heckling each other. My hope is that we will remember this, and we will continue to do better.

I am thankful to Gonzalo Duarte — our Community Manager at CSI Annex — for his support in listening to my advocacy surrounding bringing hearing accessibility to our physical location. My hope is that we continue this discussion when we return to the physical site.

Finally, my biggest dream: A universal basic income for every Canadian who needs one.

Laura Mather, POW Hearing

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