Max Cucchiella has been making masks in his home since the pandemic began, but recently he saw the need to help a specific community.
“Now we’re creating masks for the hearing impaired,” he tells CTV News Toronto.
Cucchiella has been busy creating a specially designed mask made out of cotton, with a clear vinyl insert.
“It covers your nose, your mouth but it leaves you space to lip read, do the lip reading,” he explains. “Before, they couldn’t see anybody’s lips or anything. So now they’re actually again being able to communicate with society.”
The Mississauga man admits that he did not realize initially how masks that cover the nose and mouth would create a communication barrier for those who are hearing impaired.
“I thought it was always hand signs, it wasn’t lip reading,” Cucchiella says. “But they do a combination of hand signs and lip reading. When we took our lips away from them in these masks, it changed their world. And now hopefully we can bring it back.”
When the pandemic began, Cucchiella put his construction company on hold and started The Como Foundation – in an effort to get PPE to those who need it. It was through that organization that he was contacted by the Bob Rumball Home for the Deaf in Barrie. Those working at the home were looking for masks that could help their staff and residents who are hearing impaired.
“So in sign language, people aren’t able to see the facial expressions, they don’t know if someone’s happy, because if they are, that you will see from the expression,” explains Shirley Cassel, administrator at Bob Rumball.
The Como Foundation has since made donations to Silent Voice in Toronto, and to Ernest C. Drury School for the Deaf in Milton.
“They had 12 graduates and we donated a book from Dr. Seuss, and we also gave them masks,” says Cucchiella. “My wife found out their school colour, so we got a fabric that matched their school colour and created it for them.”
Cucchiella and his family sew and iron the masks at home, and have made about 5,000 of them to date. He says those who are hearing impaired have been grateful to receive them.
“It kind of opened up some new doors for them during this pandemic. Once they were able to start lip reading, at least amongst each other, it was like wow, it was a different world.”
The Como Foundation continues to receive requests for the masks from all over the world, and are looking to increase production in the weeks to come.
“We want to give everybody the opportunity to actually be safe and communicate with everybody in a safe manner,” says Cucchiella.