A Niagara-on-the-Lake woman has designed a facemask that can help lip readers to “see” what people are saying.
Amy Post created Big Smiles Lip Reading Masks to make masks more accessible to people who are deaf, hard of hearing, their caregivers and family members.
With a clear window across the front of the face, the masks allow lip reading and wearing a mask to go hand in hand.
As a result of COVID-19, Post saw an old friend of hers, Jill Lunn, posting online about sewing masks, caps and gowns to be provided free to front-line health care workers.
By the end of March, Post was ready to contribute to the project, which then had two or three people sewing to produce all the items. All finished materials were then sent to Lunn’s home in Jordan to be distributed.
As more people began to contribute to the initiative, about a dozen members became the Sewing Aunties. That was only the beginning as Post said the Sewing Aunties Facebook group has continued to grow. It now has about 75 members.
Post said members have donated fabrics, cut the patterns to be sewn, sourced elastic for masks and even drivers who “would drive to the different Aunties houses, pick up their sewing and take it out to Jill. It was quite the endeavour.”
Lunn put out a challenge for the Sewing Aunties on the Facebook page after a family reached out to another sewing group asking if they could create a mask that would allow their deaf father to communicate with his caregivers.
“This other sewing group contacted us because it wasn’t a project they were able to take on,” Lunn said. “They’re a lot smaller than our group because our group has about 75 women.”
Post came up with the design that is now used for the Big Smiles Lip Reading Masks. She creates the lip reading masks and distributes them from her home.
“I knew we needed a mask pattern that was flat across the front,” she said.
“Some of them are not flat, they’re different shapes or they have a seam down the middle, and I knew that wouldn’t work.”
She said she saw ideas for masks online that others had made with a clear square window over the mouth to enable lip reading.
“They were really inspiring but I thought, they’re going to be very hard to sew,” she said. “To sew fabric around a small window is very tricky.”
“I just thought if I took a flat mask pattern, cut out the middle and put plastic where that middle went, maybe that would work. And it did,” Post said.
“I think they look really good. They’re much more tailored to the face and more fitted.”
“It’s using very little fabric, it’s mostly window, but just enough fabric to make it comfortable and have a seal. It’s really well-engineered,” Lunn said.
Post said the feedback she has received from her sewing group members and those looking to purchase the masks has been positive.
A Sewing Aunties member told Post the mask pattern is “fantastic because so much of your expression goes well up onto the cheek. They need to see the whole mouth area, not just a small area.”
She has also had teachers reach out looking to purchase the Big Smiles masks for their classrooms in the fall to make learning more accessible for their students.
“That was really inspiring to me that there can be more uses than just lip reading,” Post said.
“Another teacher friend who is in an elementary school said she doesn’t want her kids to feel nervous around her, that there’s a barrier around her,” she said.
“She wants kids to see her smile to know exactly what she’s communicating from her heart, not just her words.”
Post said she is blown away by people’s reactions to her design.
“I was so happy to be able to help that first family, but then to put these out there and have so many comments come in about how glad people are that there’s something available like this,” she said.
“It really makes my heart feel good.”
Post created a Facebook page at the end of May called Big Smiles Lip Reading Masks where people can order the masks. They cost $25 each.
Those interested can also contact Post by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.