Deaf Mom Designs Facemask with Plastic Window over the Mouth to Allow Lip Reading – Gets Swarmed With Hundreds of Orders from Care Homes
In one of the most creative inventions for safety since the coronavirus outbreak, a graphic designer from Manchester, United Kingdom came up with a unique facemask design to ensure her daughter communicates easily when school resumes. Justine Bate, 42, is the mother of 10-year-old Teona, and since they are both hearing-impaired, she worried her daughter wouldn’t be able to socialize with the regular full-cloth mask covering her friends’ mouths.
The issue of facemasks as an efficient preventive measure has bounced around the world since the outbreak began.  While health authorities initially stated that only people who have the virus and those going close to them should wear the masks, many countries and governments have established masks as a mandatory item for people to leave their homes.   Although surgical-grade N95 respirators offer the highest level of protection against the COVID-19, other makeshift masks with filter layers may serve the same purpose to an extent, and people are coming up with these solutions at home.
Justine’s daughter communicates with her friends at school by reading their lips, and so the mom came up with the ingenious idea to ensure her girl won’t have such a hard time. Using her sewing machine, she made a mask and replaced the fabric covering the mouth area with a transparent plastic window. She began wearing them and posting pictures of herself on Facebook, and so far, she’s received over 12,000 shares on her viral post. Her husband, Carl Bate, 50, also wears one and since the masks debuted, the couple has been swarmed with hundreds of orders from people with hearing impairments and caregivers in their community.
Different but easier
According to Carl, Justine’s carer, most of their orders so far have come from care homes tending to special-needs persons. The reusable masks are quite affordable, selling at £5.99 (7.59 USD) including packaging and delivery. On May 27 alone, they sold 42 pieces, and in Carl’s words, “We can’t make them quickly enough for what people need.”
Justine’s masks are not PPE quality since they have no filters embedded between the fabric layers, and she’s honest with her buyers about this. However, most of them do not mind as the masks are the first invention directed at making communication easier for them since this pandemic.
“Even people from the care homes said they are not bothered because of the ability to communicate with disabled people in an easier way,” Carl said. “It’s quite overwhelming but she’s loving it. The deaf community can be quite a hard place to socialize. It does bring a lot of deaf people together. The amount of people who have come up to her and asked for these masks is quite overwhelming. She’s loving the fact that she’s helping others make a better quality of life in this situation.”
He explains that a lot of their customers with special needs are often terrified of seeing people with the full face masks on. The plastic window ultimately makes the masks less terrifying.
“From the messages, we are getting a lot of people from care homes; people who have got dementia and children who have got certain types of autism where they are actually scared of people with this full face mask on,” Carl explained. “It is easier as they do not get scared. A lot of messages are from people with carers that work with care homes that want these masks where they can actually see the lips so it is not scary. They look a bit different but it is the interests of the patient that is important. You can look stupid but as long as your patient is feeling calm it is a benefit for that person.”
It took a lot of work to get the perfect prototype
According to Carl, Justine has always been the type of person who loved working with her hands. They tried different approaches to making the masks efficient but not too thick. The plastic had to be fit but not too strong since it was going to be sewn into the fabric. Also, it had to be a material that would not blur from condensation when a person speaks.
“Somebody mentioned that if you rub household soap on it then rub it off with a dry cloth it doesn’t condensate,” Carl said. “A few people have messaged asking if we are going to put a filter in but that’s impossible with the clear plastic – you are defeating the object of the plastic.”
It wasn’t easy settling into a work pattern at first. Carl admits that they had a lot of arguments when they first started production, and while they are still trying to settle into a suitable rhythm, they are doing things Justine’s way now.
“It wasn’t easy. I had my ways of doing it and she’s got her way – but her way was the best way,” Carl said. “The masks are designed for adults and can be adjusted for size with an elasticated band, but they do not yet make children’s masks.”
Speaking on why the masks are so affordable, Carl said: “It was not to do with making money – it was to do with doing something for our daughter for making her life easier.”
- ” Which kind of face mask is the best protection against coronavirus?” The Guardian. Hannah Dev. Retrieved June 5, 2020.
- “Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: When and how to use masks.” WHO. Retrieved June 5, 2020.
- “Which countries have made wearing face masks compulsory?” Aljazeera. Retrieved June 5, 2020.
- “Clear-Window Surgical Masks Are a Lifesaver for Patients with Hearing Loss. Hearing Tracker. David Copithorne. Retrieved June 5, 2020.