Transparent mask window help people with special needs
Lia Matthews has been sewing face masks since the coronavirus pandemic hit the region. Last week she started making special masks after she heard about how frustrated people who are deaf and hard of hearing felt since they cannot see expressions and read lips behind regular masks.
“Those people who have special needs are excluded from being able to communicate with masks on them. They need to be protected, but they can’t communicate,” said Matthews. “Once I thought about it, it bothered me that there weren’t more masks out there.”
Matthews had tried at least 16 designs before she came up with one pattern that balances virus protection and visibility: A clear plastic window inserted in a fabric mask. Although the time for making such special masks triples compared to sewing regular masks, Matthews hopes it will protect people while making them feel comfortable to communicate.
She said the masks adhere to safety protocols and CDC recommendations. It would be especially helpful to the deaf, hard of hearing, children, seniors, foreign language speakers, interpreters as well as people who experience stress or anxiety, she added.
“Some people rely on visual communication, but masks block essential cues like facial expressions, lip reading and emotions. Masks can be stressful, intimidating and scary. Seeing a face or a person instead of a mask is huge to reduce anxiety,” Matthews said.
Her daughter, Ali Matthews, a sign language tutor, said sign languages not only rely on hand movement but body movement and facial expression. For example, some adjectives are conveyed through shape of the mouth. Having that blocked by masks takes away the grammar and syntax of sentences.
“Facial expression is key to languages that people might not realize,” Ali Matthews said. “Ideally masks should be completely seen through. It’s scary to walk into a room with everybody’s face covered, especially for people with autism and children.”