These see-through masks will put a smile on your face and help people lip read

Western University graduate students Matthew Urichuk and Taylor Bardell are sewing masks with clear "smile panels" to help people with hearing impairments.

Teachers, therapists, clinicians and doctors have all placed orders for the masks

Western University graduate students Taylor Bardell and Matthew Urichuk are sewing masks with clear 'smile panels' to make lip reading possible for people with hearing impairments. (Submitted by Taylor Bardell and Matthew Urichuk)

Western University graduate students Matthew Urichuk and Taylor Bardell were grocery shopping when they realized how difficult it was to understand each other while wearing face masks. 

The two students began to wonder, if it was tough for them to communicate with each other, what would it be like for people who rely on lip-reading?

The pair, who study at Western's School of Communications Sciences and Disorders, began to research different types of masks online. Through trial and error they created a mask with a clear plastic patch, which they call a "smile panel." 

Initially, the plan was to make a few masks and donate them into the community. 

"We didn't anticipate quite the response that we got," said Urichuk. 

"Within, I think it was, it was definitely in the first week, it might have even been in the first three days, we had requests for 300 masks, all across Canada," added Bardell. 

Not just for the hearing impaired

Even though the inspiration came from helping people who rely on lip-reading to communicate, they can help anyone, Bardell said. 

"When people started to request them, [we noticed] there are so many different uses far beyond just people who rely on lip-reading," said Urichuk.

Teachers, therapists, clinicians and doctors are among those who have placed orders for the masks. 

To keep up with the large amount of orders, Bardell's mom and sister have joined in to help, and Bardell and Urichuk have started a GoFundMe page to help with the cost of supplies and shipping. 

Hoping others will follow suit

While the duo works away at the large list of orders they have received, they hope their initiative inspires others to follow suit. 

They've uploaded a video tutorial on their Facebook page to show people how to make a smile mask from home using a sewing machine and some fabric.

"Make them, improve them, if they can be better that's amazing. We're just all for everyone being creative and trying to think of ways to overcome some of these barriers," said Bardell. 


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