Many deaf and hard-of-hearing people rely on facial cues and speech reading, also known as lip reading, to communicate. And most available masks cover up the lips that convey critical communication clues.
There’s a workaround hearing people can use to help those who rely on lips and facial cues: clear masks.
The Delaware Speech-Language-Hearing Association, a nonprofit group for speech-language pathologists and other hearing specialists, has instructions for a homemade, deaf-friendly mask on its website. The mask features a clear vinyl panel that showcases the mouth so deaf and hard-of-hearing people can see and interpret facial cues.
A 2017 study found that people with hearing issues had better speech perception in noisy conditions when the talker wore a transparent surgical mask. According to the National Institutes of Health, 1 in 8 people ages 12 or over in the United States has hearing loss.
The masks are in demand; a representative from ClearMask, one of the few commercial clear mask companies, told NPR’s Yuki Noguchi that demand had “skyrocketed.”
But as novelist Sara Nović warned in The Washington Post, the masks are no panacea.
“For these specialized masks to help,” she writes, “it’s not those of us who are deaf or hard of hearing who have to wear them. Instead, it’s hearing people who want to make themselves understood.” To unlock the true potential of clear masks for deaf and hard-of-hearing people, she says, “We need you to do your part.”
The free mask pattern can be found at bit.ly/maskclear.