Inspirational woman makes clear masks to help people who rely on lip-reading

On the left is Jame George who is wearing a blue mask with a clear plastic panel over his mouth. On the right, Michelle Wixey wears a white mask with a clear layer over her mouth.James George and his partner, Michelle Wixey wearing the clear mask's made by Michelle's mum Julie.

Julie Wixey has been making clear masks to help people who are hard of hearing communicate more effectively.

Many of the 12 million people in the UK who suffer from loss of hearing rely on lip-reading and facial expressions to communicate.

Since mask’s became mandatory on 24 July, partners Michelle Wixey and James George have been advocates for clear masks to help people who are hard of hearing communicate.

Michelle’s Mum, Julie, decided to make the masks after being unable to communicate when going to her local shops.

Michelle Wixey, who is the only hearing person in her household, said: “She’s the main woman in all this, she has done an amazing job with these masks. The main reason was when Boris announced that masks were mandatory, Julie just wasn’t happy, she was also scared about going out. 

“She went out to a shop in our local town with her mask and herself and the worker were having so much difficulties with communication that Julie had to get her daughter to come back in to the shop to help understand what that woman was saying. Julie then went home and got her sewing machine out and started making the clear masks.”

Julie is now hoping to set up her own sewing business as: “sewing these masks has made her passion for sewing come back”

Since Michelle’s Facebook post the clear masks have become extremely popular with sales in Australia, Belgium and Ireland

Michelle Wixey also said: “We think it’s important for those who are Deaf or Hard Of Hearing to break the barrier of the communication that has been stopped because of these full masks.

“The masks with the window helps see people’s lips which helps those who lipread a lot understand what people are saying which obviously helps with communication which breaks the barrier that was there”

Michelle feels that: “The government are not putting those who rely on lipreading in consideration with the masks.

“A lot of people who rely on lipreading have become very isolated as they are nervous or anxious about going out in public and having to talk to staff in shops etc.”

As well as the clear masks, Michelle and her family would also like to see Basic British Sign Language compulsory in schools and public businesses to help communicate with Deaf people.

All enquiries about the clear masks can be sent to:

Celebrities such as Josie Gibson have also voiced their opinions around the use of masks when suffering with hearing loss and how she feels the deaf community has been forgotten about during the pandemic.

Charities have also expressed their concerns around wearing masks. A Hearing Link, a UK-wide charity for people with hearing loss, spokesperson said: “With so many people wearing face coverings and masks in public due to social distancing; deaf people who rely on lipreading are facing more communication barriers than ever.”

“Wearing face masks is a very sensible precaution to reduce the spread of Coronavirus. However, this precaution can have the unintended consequence of increasing communication barriers for anyone who relies on lipreading, making things much harder for them. 

“Fully or partially transparent face masks or coverings can help to reduce these barriers, as they allow the wearer’s face and mouth to remain visible which greatly helps lipreaders.”

Peter Nicolson, Leeds hearing and sight Loss Service, advises deaf people with overcoming these issues, she said: “I have advised people to polity ask the person to remove the mask and to lip-read.

“Some people in supermarkets such as check out assistants, have been fine and understanding and they have removed the mask and some people use visors which are much better. However, some staff are really bad and wont remove the mask. It is difficult to ask people to remove their mask sometimes if their attitude isn’t very understanding to the deaf community.”

One business that has been named as not being understanding is Specsavers.

Peter Nicolson also advised that: “All supermarket and shop staff use full face visors rather than masks so you are able to see the full face and nothing is covered at all. At the end of the day it is all about awareness”.

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