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.
Her creation comes after spotting Rafi Nova’s original Smile Mask which she says restored visual cues to communicate.
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Excited to have partnered up with @rafinova_go to bring you the Millie mask! This mask has a clear plastic covering for the deaf and hard of hearing communities. 100% of the profits benefit @deafwomenofcolor and Texas Hands and Voices to raise funds for Black Lives Matter and families with deaf children. 🤟🏻❤️ link in my bio to purchase!
“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.
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.