Environment at Factory Two helped a local maker design masks for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

FLINT, Michigan -- Flint’s Factory Two makerspace was founded on a belief that providing access to tools, training, and space can unlock the creative potential of people of all ages and backgrounds in a community.

That’s exactly how it helped a project come to life for Flint resident Naomi Villaranda. Villaranda was approached by a former Factory Two employee, Jon Hardman, about possibly using her skewing skills to create masks for Deaf and Hard of Hearing families in the community. 

In an interview with Flintside earlier this year, Yuliette Parks, a Deaf Flint resident, noted how difficult mask mandates have been for Deaf and Hard of Hearing people who rely on lip-reading to community.

“People with masks on is a huge barrier for us. It's hard to communicate,” Parks said in the interview. “It's confusing, you know, to see a person with a mask. I don't know if they're talking to me or not talking to me and to read their expressions is very difficult. I feel very lost navigating the world and that.”

Slate also covered how bit of a barrier to communication masks have been to Deaf people throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Villaranda’s challenge was to design and make a mask with a window in it so that Deaf or Hard of Hearing people could still see lip movements. The masks were requested by Dr. Bobby Mukkamala, a Flint otolaryngologist.

“Dr. Bobby wanted them for some client families that were hard of hearing,” Villaranda said. “I came up with a working pattern and did them for him. They have a plastic window panel, I tried to do something that wouldn’t have too much fog.”

Similar masks exist on the market, but the non-fogging plastic insert can make them expensive -- Villaranda said that non-fogging plastic alone costs about $10 per piece. She made approximately 20-30 masks initially and donated them.

“Mostly, I just make them when people ask. I don’t charge people -- if they want to pay me they can, but if they don’t that’s OK. Most of the stuff I used was donated,” she said.

She’s also still playing with her original prototype and design when she has time. She works full-time and makes the masks when she can find the time. 

“I want to make the window a little bit bigger than how I initially made it and also want to make it a little bit easier to sew so that if someone wanted to try the pattern, they could,” Villaranda said. “Right now, you’d have to be pretty skilled at sewing to try the pattern I used.”

She also notes that the space at Factory Two has been ideal for her as she’s worked on the project.

“It’s awesome,” she said. “The machines are set up all the time. There’s so many tables and that’s the biggest thing -- having table room. When you’re cutting out patterns, and have this large piece of fabric, and need to iron it, at home I don’t have that kind of space or table room.” 

That environment is exactly what the team at Factory Two set out to build.

“The whole secret to the makerspace is the community that has developed around it,” said Joel Rash, grand coordinator at Factory Two. “Staff, volunteers, instructors, and makers like Naomi are constantly circulating through the space working on their own projects. There is always another set of eyes to check out what you’re working on, piles of in-progress projects to provide inspiration, and folks skilled in all sorts of disciplines to help with troubleshooting.”

Factory Two provides members with access to 3D printers, drones, wood and metal shop resources, tools to make jewelry or other goods, art, clothing, and more. They also provide training on how to use the various tools available there. Information is available on the website. Rash also notes that the environment itself -- and the ideas that come out of the space -- are constantly inspiring.

“I’m not a maker myself, so it has been amazing seeing how people apply their skill and creativity to tackling problems,” he said. “Our tech coordinator, Doc Shank, uses the 3D printers to create adaptive technology devices to help out folks who might lack strength or mobility in their hands. Our old bookkeeper, Marcus Bieth, used the laser cutter to make a doggie staircase so his aging chihuahua could still climb into her bed. People are empowered to develop their own solutions, instead of just buying something online and hoping it works.”
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