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Deaf Actress Millicent Simmonds Designs Clear Face Masks for Deaf Community

Actress Millicent Simmonds releases Millie Smile Mask, a clear face mask for the deaf community
Wearing face masks has become a norm to help combat the spread of COVID-19.

It’s no secret that mask-wearing has been especially difficult for the deaf and hard of hearing community who rely heavily on visual cues. Thankfully, many companies and individuals have begun making clear masks for the deaf and hard of hearing community. The latest to join the trend is “A Quiet Place” deaf actress Millicent Simmonds.  Simmonds has partnered with fair-trade fashion brand Rafi Nova to design the Millie Smile Mask, a clear face mask that allows for lip reading and visual cues while staying safe against COVID-19.

The Millie Smile Mask, the Latest Clear Face Mask

Her creation comes after spotting Rafi Nova’s original Smile Mask which she says restored visual cues to communicate.

“Deaf people really rely on expression and facial cues, and a lot of hard of hearing individuals rely on lip reading,” Simmonds says in an exclusive with PEOPLE.

She goes on to explain that the deaf community shouldn’t be the only people wearing these masks. The hearing community should wear clear masks as well.

“In fact, 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,” she says. “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!”

“In fact, 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.”

Simmonds and a speech-language pathology clinical fellow are the designers of the Millie Smile Mask. The mask features a wide transparent panel and custom floral print.

The benefit of the masks doesn’t stop there. Net proceeds of the Mille Smile Masks are being donated to the non-profit organization Deaf Women of Color and Loving Hands and Hearts based in Texas, which helps parents of children who are deaf.

How Face Masks Impact the Deaf Community

Solid face masks without a clear panel obscure our mouths when we speak and hide smiles and frowns. This can make it more challenging to understand what others are saying. According to The Hearing Review, face masks reduce certain frequencies of sound including higher frequencies that are used in speech. It can reduce the sound 3 to 4 dB for a simple medical mask. The sound is reduced even more for a N95 mask, as much as 12dB.

With higher frequencies reduced, it is hard to hear speech. Additionally, other cues are blocked such as lip reading, body language, or facial expressions.

Even many hearing people also use lip-reading to support their communication. However, for deaf people who rely heavily on this communication tool, understanding people behind the masks becomes especially difficult. It can also sometimes lead to feelings of frustration, isolation, and loneliness.

If hearing people wear clear face masks, such as Millie Smile Masks, communication will be more accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing community.

You can purchase a Millie Smile Mask for yourself or your hearing loved ones here.

Read more:  ‘What to know about clear medical masks for lipreading’.

Author Details
Ashley is a 29-year-old who loves to travel and try new things. She has bi-lateral, severe hearing loss, and wears a Phonak Naída V-SP hearing aid in one ear and has an Esteem implant in the other. She plays soccer for the USA Women’s National Deaf Team. She’s currently traveling the world in pursuit of adventure and perspective while also learning about the deaf and hard of hearing communities in various countries. Her travels can be followed on instagram @ashley5chanel or on her blog