A deaf woman has stitched together special transparent face masks which will help people with hearing issues who rely on lip reading to communicate.
Joanne Roberts is deaf in her right ear and was left feeling “bewildered” when people tried to speak to her through their masks during the pandemic.
The 37-year-old relies on lip reading to communicate which made speaking to people while adhering to Covid-19 safety measures near impossible.
But the embroiderer decided to put her silky sewing skills to good use and create her own inclusive face covering.
In mid-May, she began watching countless hours of video tutorials on YouTube and scrolled through pages of picture sharing website Pinterest to find inspiration.
By the end of the month, the self-starting business owner was sewing hundreds of see-through face masks.
Joanne, from Harrogate, North Yorks., said: “The masks aren’t just for people who struggle to hear, it’s for everyone.
“I wanted to make my own mask, one that made communication accessible for everyone.
“I think we should all look to use masks like these because communication is so important for us, on a social level, on a mental health level.”
Over 11 million people in the UK are deaf or hard of hearing, according to the government’s official figures.
But Joanne says deaf people have struggled mightily during lockdown and felt a loss of confidence as a result.
The mum-of-one added: “Throughout lockdown I’ve been having bad experiences with the masks.
“I’m deaf in my right ear and anything that is said from that side or even in front of me I struggle to hear.
“It’s a really bewildering experience to try and communicate with someone now with a mask because I can’t see their lips and I can’t hear them speak.
“People like me don’t want to go out and speak to people because your confidence is shattered when you can’t communicate.
“I spoke to a friend of mine who is also deaf and they said it would be nice to have a mask where you could actually see the person’s mouth.
“And I thought that’s something I can do.”
Joanne spent a few days experimenting with different fabrics and plastics and eventually decided to use two layers of 100 percent cotton.
The “transparent” area is made from plastic PVC and Joanne says it can stay clear of steam for hours.
Joanne said: “I started making them really quickly because I wanted to test them out and make sure people who needed them could get them.
“It took a few goes because the first one I made kept steaming up, but now it can last a few hours.
The face masks are made by hand on an industrial embroidery machine and churn out about 10 masks in two hours.
They cost £5 and can be customised with different colours and patterns and are washable.
She said: “It’s so important for people to wear masks today – as we need to stay safe.
“But so many people are reliant on facial expressions to communicate and understand – which ultimately is so important.
“We are always subconsciously lip reading and for example seeing someone giggle triggers something in our brain like a jigsaw.
“But you wouldn’t see it with the mask on.
“It’s a small thing but it makes a massive difference.”
Joanne has sold over 200 masks so far, which you can purchase by searching “Protection vision communication masks” on Facebook.