My name is Leala Lierman, and I am the sole owner and designer at Nevada Smiles. I am a Northern Nevada resident with congenital hearing loss. I wear hearing aids, speech-read, and communicate in English or American Sign Language. I grew up locally in the public school systems attending Tahoe Lake Elementary, North Tahoe Middle School and then Reno High School. I have an Associates in Deaf Studies and a Bachelors in Audiology and Speech Pathology.
Due to the worldwide outbreak of Covid19, half of my final semester at the University of Nevada, Reno was conducted online and my graduation plans were spoiled. Instead of volunteering to teach deaf children abroad, I decided to stay in Reno. We are, after all, in the middle of a pandemic and revolution. Our voices are needed at home.
How It Began
When the shutdown happened, I was working at a restaurant. Upon learning the immediate need for my coworker's and I to be in masks, I learned to sew. I dug out a 25-year-old machine and called my mom via facetime. Streaming her voice through my hearing aids, I listened to her lesson. Many hours and much frustration later, I had masks for a few staff members.
I was proud of my new skill and happy to help until I realized how detrimental these masks were to my communication abilities. Not only do they muffle sound, but they block visual access for speech and lipreading.
When interacting with guests at the restaurant, I found it harder to connect. My smile and expression become muted and obsolete behind a standard mask.
Bringing the issue to my mother's attention, we set out on a quest! Many prototypes and much testing later, we finalized Nevada Smiles equal access masks.