star Millie Simmonds has designed a clear face mask to allow deaf people to lip read while staying safe against coronavirus.
The coverings are vital to help slow the spread of the disease, but in wearing masks we lose a lot of the visual communication cues we’re used to.
Solid masks hide smiles and frowns, but most notably they obscure our mouths as we talk. This can make it more difficult to understand what people are saying, as often even hearing people are aided by lip reading. For deaf people who rely on the practice, understanding people becomes impossible.
In an effort to bring back visual communication cues, Millie partnered with fair-trade fashion brand Rafi Nova to design the Millie Smile Mask.
Like a regular face mask, the covering protects the nose and mouth, but it has a transparent window that allows people to see the lips of the person wearing it.
Deaf people really rely on expression and facial cues, and a lot of hard of hearing individuals rely on lip reading.
Hearing loss affects 14% of Americans, but Millie pointed out that the masks aren’t solely designed to be worn by the deaf and hard of hearing communities, as it is other people’s lips they need to see in order to communicate.
The 17-year-old explained:
The hearing community are the ones we really need wearing the masks because, like I mentioned, a lot of deaf individuals are the ones that rely so much on lip reading and expression.
It would help to have these masks everywhere. Hospitals, grocery stores, nursing homes etc… There are over 400 million deaf and hard of hearing people worldwide! That’s a lot of us!
The custom face masks are designed by both Millie and a speech-language pathology clinical fellow, and net proceeds from the coverings are being donated to the nonprofit organisation Deaf Women of Color, and Loving Hands and Hearts, which helps parents of children who are deaf.
Millie isn’t the first to design a transparent mask; her creation comes after she spotted Rafi Nova’s original Smile Mask and enjoyed how it restored visual cues like lip-reading and facial expressions to communication.
Similar masks are available elsewhere online, and social media users have praised their creation for helping ensure those who are hard of hearing are not left excluded from conversations involving face masks.
The Millie Smile Mask is available for purchase on RafiNova.com.