Hearing access specialists
Hearing access specialists

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Across the UK, at least 11 million people have some level of deafness.  Each and every one of these individuals might now find life harder due to the use of masks and other facial coverings.

And it is not just people with deafness who will be struggling:  the Royal College of Speech & Language Therapists has highlighted the potential impact of masks on others with communication challenge, including people with aphasia, autism, with dementia or with learning disability.

Let’s also not forget that even people with good hearing and no communication challenges make use of lipreading and facial expressions to communicate as shown by research undertaken in the past.  Visual clues are important for assisting the way we interact with others.

The problem with masks

  1. Masks cover the mouth and face and by doing so prevent people from lipreading or from using (quite often subconsciously) mouth shape and facial expression to assist in accurately hearing and following what is being said.
  2. Masks muffle the sound of voices, not just reducing the volume but, even more importantly, reducing the clarity, so words are harder to properly hear and understand.
  3. Masks also create problems for those who use British Sign Language (BSL) as oppose to listening to the spoken voice as BSL relies heavily on facial expression used in combination with hand gestures and movements and body language.
  4. Masks prevent facial expressions being seen and so we cannot so easily build rapport or demonstrate empathy, things that are particularly important when we are stressed or unwell or in an unfamiliar or noisy environment.

The clear panel solution

A clear panel constructed into the mask, or a full transparent face shield, makes it possible to see the mouth or the full face.  This can be a significant benefit.  It is important, however, that the mask or shield does not fog up, reflect light or block sound (these things are proving an issue some products available).

So what’s available?

We cannot offer a view on the quality or efficacy of any of the masks listed below, but we are pleased to share the details so you can see the sorts of things available.  You might also wish to watch this 50-sec video from the BBC on the right way to wear a face covering.


Update 27 August

Be aware of sound blocking – a study published in the July/August 2020 edition of Audiology Today  suggests masks with plastic panels stop sound from passing through, so there is less volume and clarity when someone speaks.  It was found that they can block twice as much sound as an N95 mask and up to four times as much sound as typical surgical masks.  The results were dependent on the masks tested. When face shields were added, the sound quality was poorer still.

This highlights the importance of research and development to identify materials and designs that will minimise the impact of sound blocking.

At Ideas for Ears, we want to see more independent testing and more information about each product and how it performs for:

  • safety
  • mouth/face visibility
  • fogging/light reflecting
  • sound passage or blocking
  • comfort generally (and with hearing aids, cochlear implants, glasses)

Update 26 August

Three images showing three styles of face masks on plastic dummies£50k in development money from Scottish Enterprise

Edinburgh-based Breathe Easy has received £50k to extend its range of lip-reading masks and will work with the National Manufacturing Institute for Scotland (NMIS) to upgrade
these face coverings to type IIR masks, which are suitable for use in clinical settings

 


Update 15 July

Crowd-funded CLIU mask from Italy

This mask from a team in Italy is still at the concept stage.  It is being crowd-funded so if you like the look of the product, you can support it by making a pre-order.  The development team say that it will be a “safe, elegant and light” solution.  Find out more [external link].

 

 

A white mask with small holes in the front of it that light up in different geometric patterns

Robot technology mask from Japan

C-FACE from Donut Robotics in Tokyo is said to be the world’s first “smart mask that works with smartphones”.  It lights up when someone speaks – but potentially far more usefully, it converts what the speaker is saying directly into text that can be displayed on a digital screen.  As well as transcribing speech, it can translate from one spoken language to another.  Find out more [external link].

 

A laughing woman holding a child is wearing a complete transparent mask. It looks like it might be made of clear plastic.

Crowd-funded Leaf mask from Michigan, USA

This is another product in development.  It is made of a soft silicone material and comes in a range of models.  It has so far raised a mind-boggling £2.7 million in crowdfunding.  It claims not only to be highly safe, but to have innovative and helpful features, including filters, ventilation fans, anti-fog coating and a UVC light.  Find out more [external link]

 

Approved for use in UK health and care settings

A woman wears a mask that is completely clear, except for a white fabric trim round the edge and comfort stuffing

This is the mask that has recently been approved for use by the NHS and other care providers.  New guidance is encouraging use of these clear masks to assist communication.

It comes from the USA and is called ‘ClearMask’.  Read more [this is a link to an external site] 

 

 

 


Update 13 July

Smile mask raises money for charity

Todmoorden Cancer Research Group is making masks from donated fabric. 100% of the profit goes to Cancer Research.  Find out more [external link].

 

 

 

Family-made Friendly Face Mask

This is the first lip-reading face mask to become widely available in the UK and across the globe.  It is made in different sizes to fit different faces.  Find out more [external link]. 

 

 


Update 3 July 2020: 

A woman wears a simple plastic shield across her face

New simple face shield

FLATSHIELD® utilises lightweight and discreet materials for a comfortable experience.  It has a pop-up headband to create the gap required between the device and face. It is anti-fog.  Read more here [this is a link to external site]

 

 


Update 11 June 2020: 

New type of transparent mask from HmCare

A female doctor wears a mask made of a see-through fabric that is not plasticSwiss scientists have developed what they say is a “fully transparent surgical mask that filters out germs” whilst also allowing facial expressions to be seen.  It is expected to be available in summer of 2021. Read more here [this is a link to an external site].

 

 

 

UK innovated full face shield

A young woman wears a plastic see-through face shield

Shropshire-based firm Plastic-IT have developed a face shield by working in consultation with the infection control department at their local NHS Trust.  The mask is lightweight and comes with a flat surface over the eyes to give good vision and make it comfortable for glasses wearers. It doesn’t cover the ears so is suitable for hearing aid users. Read more here [this is a link to an external site]

 

 


Update 16 May

Homemade by a friend

A woman wears a pink mask that has a clear panel. She is looking at the camera and smiling.

Here’s a mask that was profiled in the Gateshead Chronicle along with a lovely story about how it was created by a woman for her friend who is an English/British Sign Language interpreter.  They seem to have quickly recognised the importance of faces being visible to permit communication.  Read more here [this is a link to an external site].

 

 

 

Created by a Covid-19 support group

A woman wears a grey fabric mask that has a clear panel. This clear-panel mask was featured in the Salisbury Journal.  Once again, there is a lovely story behind its origins, which lie in a Facebook request for clear-panel masks being spotted by a member of the Salisbury Makers Hub, a group set up to produce items to support Covid-19,   Read more [this is a link to an external site]

 

 

 

Created in Scotland

A woman wears a red and white mask with a clear panelEdinburgh startup, Breathe Easy, is producing hundreds of re-usable masks with clear panels, having trialled the first prototypes in early April.   Read more [this is a link to an external site]

 

 

 

 

The student start-up

A young woman with long fair hair and wearing a green mask with clear panel smiles at the camera.

Here’s a mask that has been widely seen across social media.  It was made by a student in the USA who seems to have quickly spotted the need for masks that would allow people to see mouths and faces.  Read more [this is a link to an external site]

 

 

 

 

The face shield

A woman wears a mask that is completely clear, except for a white fabric trim round the edge and comfort stuffing

Also from the USA is this mask called ‘ClearMask’.  It claims to be the first transparent mask with full-face visibility.  It has patent-pending design and is said to provide an effective and anti-fogging shield.  Read more [this is a link to an external site] 

 

 

 

 

ZVerse full-face shield

A man using a clear plastic face shield that is clipped around his neck and

This shield has been created by an American company called ZVerse.  It is one of a number of styles and designs that rest around the neck and swing up or down in front of the face. Read more [this is a link to an external site]

 

 

 

A mask in hot demand 

A woman wears a white surgical mask with a clear panel. She is side on to the camera and smiling

A further USA product is this one known as The Communicator Mask, which was designed for use in operating rooms.  Demand appears to have outstripped supply and the company producing them is not currently taking any more orders. Read more [this is a link to an external site]

 

 

 

 

Make your own mask with clear panel for lipreading

Shows a sewing pattern for making a mask

If you want to make your own mask, you will find a pattern on the website for USA charity in Seattle, Hearing, Speech & Deaf Centre [link to external site].

 

 

 

Video with instructions for creating your own

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5 responses to “Masks with a clear panel for lipreading”

  1. These masks with clear panels look great but EVERYONE would need to wear them if the hard of hearing community are to understand what is being said. Also, for those of us who wear both hearing aids and glasses, masks can be painful to wear if, like me, there is little room behind the ear. For those not adept at lip reading, would these materials still not muffle sound?

    • Hello Diane, you raise a couple of really good points:

      1) the problem of masks adding extra bulk behind the ear that can be uncomfortable or painful for hearing aid or glasses wearers. To solve this you could try adding a button to your glasses. You do that by threading an elastic band through the buttonholes (a button with 4 holes) to create two small loops. Do one button for each arm of your glasses. Slide the end of the glasses arm through the loops to attach the button to the leg of the glasses. When you put on your mask, secure the mask’s elastic loops around the buttons instead of your ears. Hope that makes sense!

      2) muffling of sound from a face covering. Some studies have been done to try to work out how much sound is absorbed, blocked or distorted by different types of facial coverings. From what we’ve seen, all face coverings cause some degradation to the quality/clarity of speech. However, a mask that allows sight of the mouth / face is definitely going to be preferable. It’s also worth knowing that lots of people who do not consider themselves “lipreaders” do actually watch mouth/lip movement to help them understand what’s said. Quite often it is done subconsciously. This means lots of people will find it harder to hear when someone is wearing a cloth mask.

      Let us know how you get on with the buttons on your glasses, if you try it out.

      Best wishes, Sally

    • Hello Pauls,
      You ask an important question but this is not something that we can advise on. You will need to contact the individual manufacturers or retailers to see what is recommended. If you find any information that you feel could be useful to others, please do let us know so we can share it.
      Best wishes, Sally & Team

  2. Hello Sally,

    Interesting article and thank you for sharing.

    We supply clear panel face coverings which are used for lip reading. If you could kindly spread the word that would be great as we are aiming to provide face coverings to as much of the community as possible.

    We are based in the UK and our warehouses are near London but can deliver nationally and internationally.

    Our email address is info@globalpharmauk.com

    Many thanks,

    Lisa

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