Coronavirus News: See-through masks helping those with autism, hearing loss

NEW YORK (WABC) -- A New Yorker, now living in Seattle, is on a mission to expand the availability of see-through masks amid the Coronavirus pandemic.

"I am hard of hearing and I've really struggled to understand people through their masks," Gypsy Lovett said.

Lovett began making cloth masks at the start of the pandemic and only began making the see-through design she's now known for after getting a request from a friend who also struggles with hearing loss.

"She is hard of hearing but she serves the deaf community, and she asked if I could make a clear-windowed mask," Lovett said. "I actually wasn't aware of them, and I was like, 'Sure, let me do some poking around.'"

Lovett made the mask for her friend and another for herself.

"I couldn't walk down the street without someone asking me where I got it, and if I would make one for them," Lovett said. "It all just kind of went from there."

Lovett launched Not My Circus Co. on Etsy and quickly began receiving orders from people around the country.

The masks require regular treatment to prevent fogging. Lovett provides instructions with each order.
She's one of several people selling see-through designs online.

Lovett said the masks have been particularly popular among people working with children, individuals with hearing loss and their families, and individuals with autism.

Many individuals with autism have sensory sensitivities irritated by traditional masks and rely on visual cues like a smile or a frown for communication.

"It's not touching my mouth," said Lovett while demonstrating her design. "So for kids with sensory issues, I find this more helpful. I have had a number of families who have just reached out to say, 'Thank you so much. Our whole family has really been struggling.'"

Advocates for those with hearing loss call masks like the ones made by Lovett incredibly important, especially in healthcare settings, where only a couple see-through masks have FDA approval, and the providers have been unable to keep up with demand.

"Masks do make communication difficult for both the Deaf (ASL users) and hard of hearing. Reading lips and facial expressions (a more accurate term is speech reading, rather than lip-reading) is essential for many, including me," wrote Katherine Bouton in a statement, author of "Shouting Won't Help" and "Smart Hearing," and spokesperson for Hearing Loss Association of America. "The FDA has approved two brands of see-through masks but both are on backorder into late summer I think. The pandemic has made evident the real need for FDA approved clear face masks to be part of every medical/dental office's supply chain."
Advocates for those with autism have also expressed support for see-through masks.

"There are so many challenges our community is facing right now," said Director of Lifespan Services and Supports at Autism Speaks Arianna Esposito. "I think for some individuals, they may find that very effective if they are utilizing lip-reading or picking up on facial cues."

Lovett's masks aren't FDA-approved, but they have been popular among everyday users.

She also hopes the FDA approves additional sources of see-through masks in part because she has had her own personal experiences struggling to communicate with doctors wearing a mask.

In the meantime, Lovett said, she's been grateful for the opportunity to give back during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"What I have come to appreciate is how much you miss in communication when you can only see someone's eyes," Lovett said. "It restores a little bit of humanity for all of us perhaps."

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