Transparent masks: “a step forward” for the deaf, hampered by its cost

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Paris | They protect against COVID-19 and facilitate communication: transparent masks are “a step forward” for the deaf and hard of hearing who read lips, but still high prices are slowing their “democratization” in Europe, Asia and North America North.

Signs of growing popularity, there are tutorials on YouTube to make her transparent mask, American football coach Nic Saban wears his at the edge of the pitch, the French Minister for Persons with Disabilities wears it in the National Assembly , a sign language interpreter at Portsmouth (UK) hospital exhibits it on Twitter …

Unlike the classic mask, the model with transparent window allows you to see the facial expression and read the lips.

“Lip reading is a plus for me. You can well imagine (or not) that with masks, it’s more difficult, ”testifies to AFP Vivien Laplane, a French deaf by birth and author of the blog“ Appendre à vivre ”.

A couple of deaf Indonesians, tailors in Makassar on the island of Sulawesi, manufactures and markets since April transparent masks without which “it is impossible for a deaf person who reads lips to understand what others say”, explains Faizah Badaruddin who, with her husband, produces two dozen each day.

Communication is thus facilitated and not only for the deaf and hard of hearing, who number 70 million according to the World Federation of the Deaf.

The French Federation of Speech-Language Pathologists explains that with conventional masks, “patients find themselves deprived of the main source of the oral message: the mouth and facial expressions”.

The model is also favored by teachers. Rory Burnham Pickett is a teacher in Sapporo, Japan (north): “I know it’s frustrating that my students don’t see my mouth or the expression on my face. I made myself a transparent mask because it is difficult to find ”.

To avoid resorting to a random D system, governments are tackling the subject by issuing approvals or placing orders.

Quebec has ordered 100,000 masks for distribution in the health network, according to local media. The Association of People with Hearing Impairment (APDA) has ordered 100,000 washable masks with transparent windows from the Quebec company Madolaine. “The sales are done very quickly”, assures the director of the association, Marie-Hélène Tremblay.

In the United States, ClearMask LLC announced on Tuesday that it had received approval from the FDA, the U.S. drug agency, for a transparent mask for medical use. The Baltimore-based company already produced transparent, non-surgical masks.

Masks for everyone

It was after “a stint in the pharmacy where communication with the staff was greatly degraded due to the wearing of the classic mask” that Anissa Mekrabech, a 31-year-old French woman suffering from deafness, had the idea of ​​creating a transparent mask prototype.

She co-founded the company ASA Initia, based in Toulouse (south-west), and forged a partnership with the Association des Paralysés de France to develop and market the “inclusive mask”.

The first to be approved in France, with 20,000 orders to date, it has been joined by a second model, the “smile mask” from Odiora, a company from Lyon (center-east). Two more should be approved soon, according to the French government.

As for the associations, Stéphane Lenoir, coordinator of the Collectif Handicaps in France, welcomes “a step forward” but “raises the question of the generalization and the cost” of these masks. It costs 10.90 to 15 euros ($ 16.90 to $ 23) per unit in France, 9.27 euros ($ 14.40) in Quebec, the American ClearMask offers a set of 24 masks at $ 88 .

Rory Burnham Pickett notes that the clear masks found in Japan “come from the United States and are expensive.”

In France, the government is considering aid measures and public orders, as recommended by associations. For Sophie Cluzel, French Secretary of State for People with Disabilities, “the promotion of transparent masks will increase production and lower manufacturing costs and therefore prices”.

Because “it is necessary to democratize the wearing of the transparent mask”, pleads the Quebecer Marie-Hélène Tremblay.

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