This is Carolina: Horry Co. woman making a difference for deaf community across the country

Updated: Aug. 12, 2020 at 5:35 PM EDT
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CONWAY, S.C. (WMBF) - Two friends formed an unlikely friendship because, at first, they didn’t speak the same language.

That changed over time, as Tania Appel learned American Sign Language (ASL) to talk with her friend, Vassie Mulligan. The next thing she did would change things for the better for more than Vassie.

“This makes, like, a perfect cut. Perfect,” Tania Appel said as she cut out face masks using her new Cricut machine. She had an older version for a few years, but said Cricut sent her one of its latest models after learning she was using it to make regular masks and masks for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Appel said she used a Facebook Cricut group to share mask ideas, and it grew from there.

“Well I was making masks and I saw one on Facebook that had a clear front. I thought, ‘I think my friend Vassie, he would like that.’ So I made one for him. Then I realized when I posted it on Facebook, I started getting a lot of responses from people that really wanted one and needed one from cardiologists and people that worked in emergency rooms, or people that had children with autism or people that had children that were deaf,” Appel said of her inspiration.

She said she’s made about 850 masks, all free. Fifty of them have been made with clear plastic to see the person’s mouth. Appel and Mulligan said it makes all the difference.

For Mulligan, the question was how could he understand what people who had on masks were saying? Appel signed that very question to him.

“I just couldn’t understand them. I couldn’t read lips and I need to be able to see their lips in order to communicate because sometimes they don’t know sign, but I can be able to read somebody’s expression or read their lips and know what they’re saying. So there were times that I really just couldn’t communicate with people because I didn’t know what they were saying,” Mulligan said to Appel in American Sign Language.

Appel made Mulligan his first clear-front mask a month ago. Since then, she’s received requests for them and has shipped them all over the country. The duo even appeared on Good Morning America for their efforts after someone saw her story on the Cricut Facebook group, Appel said.

The clear-fronted masks make a difference to more people than just those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

“Servers at restaurants, people in hospitals, doctor’s offices, hotels and anyone that deals with everyday people with hearing disabilities. Because what happens is when someone who has a hearing disability, or a hearing impairment, goes into a restaurant or can’t understand what the waitress is saying, you know it makes it very difficult for them to order,” Appel said. “So if the hostess is wearing one or in doctor’s offices, it just makes it a lot easier for the deaf and hard of hearing folks to understand what’s being said, and to be able to read lips to be able to communicate better.”

Appel has also donated masks to the Horry County Sheriff’s Office and plans to work with Horry County Schools. She just learned to sew when she began her mask-making.

“I hope that more people will wear their mask and they really need to support interpreters and the deaf community,” Mulligan said, adding that he hopes children will wear and benefit from the clear-fronted masks as well.

Appel works full-time with Mulligan at the South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Center in Conway. Her mask-making is her new hobby that she’s working hard to keep up with. She said if you order one of her free masks to please remember it may take a week or two. To reach her, click here for her Facebook page.

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