French inventor's face mask to help deaf communicate

For the deaf and hard of hearing who rely on lip-reading, face masks threaten to cut off communication - but transparent face masks from a French inventor offer hope.

20 May 2020
Woman putting on a protective face mask.Coronavirus face masks make lip reading impossible for the deaf and hard of hearing
By Joanna York

Since France’s coronavirus lockdown has eased, face masks have become a common sight. Although it is not obligatory to wear them in all public places in France, they are compulsory on public transport and in confined spaces, such as shops.

While essential for public health, the muffled conversations and lack of visible facial expressions that come along with masks can make conversation a challenge.

But for the deaf and hard of hearing, face masks can make communication all but impossible, as they are no longer able to lip read.

Kelly Morellon, who lost her hearing following an accident, told newspaper Le Parisien: “Masks are the enemy of deaf people. But Covid-19 won’t stop us living life.”

Read more: Why is it not obligatory to wear a mask in France?

Face masks for lip reading

Along with her mother Sylvie, Ms Morellon has designed and made a partially transparent mask to help her and others with hearing problems stay safe and communicate.

“We looked at different tutorials to find a mask that would fit our needs and meet AFNOR standards,” Morellon explained in a separate interview with news network France TV Info.

AFNOR is the French national organisation for standardisation.

They eventually settled on a design that is reusable, washable at 60°C, and with a removable plastic window covering the mouth.

Read more: Everyone now urged to wear a facemask

Read more: Face masks in France: How to wash and reuse safely

While the masks do not need to be worn by deaf people themselves, Ms Morellon, who is the founder of association Main dans la Main, hopes they will be adopted by those who interact with the deaf and hard of hearing on a regular basis, such as cashiers working on the disabled queue in supermarkets.

She notes they could be crucial in hospitals where deaf people who don’t know how to read or use sign language may not understand the treatment they are being given if they aren’t able to lip read.

She told Le Parisien, “In France there are five million of us. Our disability is invisible, but we don’t want to be.”

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