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A Florida man who has suffered from profound hearing loss for 25 years knows first-hand how critical lip reading is for those who are hearing impaired. But with face masks becoming a part of the “new normal” amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, reading lips has become impossible, leading him to create a special type of face mask for those who rely on this method of communication.
“When you meet someone and let them know you’re a ‘lip reader,’ most of the time it doesn’t connect with that person. Other times people will speak louder and slower,” Brian Travers, 53, of Coconut Creek, Fla., who slowly lost his hearing over the years due to a rare genetic disorder known as osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease, told Fox News.
In the spring, when schools around the country closed, leaving students of all ages to continue their education at home, Travers went to his daughter Rylee’s middle school early one morning in hopes of obtaining a laptop for his 13-year-old from the school.
“When I arrived at her school to pick up a laptop for her, there were four stations with a teacher at each station. Each parent had to provide information at each station before a laptop was signed out to us. I informed each teacher that I was deaf and relied on ‘lip reading’ to communicate. I asked if they could lower their mask so I could read their lips, but they all declined,” he recalled.
Travers sews the windowed face masks himself.
Thankfully, a parent behind Travers realized the issue, helping the stay-at-home dad to ultimately get a computer for his daughter.
“He lowered his mask at each station allowing me to read his lips to find out what information I needed to provide. Without his generosity, I may have left that day without a computer,” he recalled.
Frustrated, Travers returned home. At the dining room table where his wife, Erin, an intensive care unit nurse, had been sewing homemade masks, Travers took a pair of nearby scissors and cut a hole in the middle of his mask out of anger.
But moments later, his frustration immediately turned to inspiration — realizing the masks simply needed to be adjusted for lip reading.
“As the mask laid there on the table with the hole I made, I began to think, ‘How could I put something there that’s ‘see-through’ so I could see someone else’s lips?’”
And just like that, the project was born: Travers began making windowed masks, using clear plastic rectangles in place of fabric on the front of the masks.
Travers has since received hundreds of orders for the specialized masks after posting photos of them on several online forums for the deaf and hard of hearing communities.
A windowed face mask created by Travers. (Brian Travers)
“I have received orders from all over the world. I was thrilled to get an order from Ireland; I couldn’t fill that order quickly enough. The postal cost was more than the cost of the masks but that was of no concern, [it] made me proud to tell the customer they were on the way,” he said, adding he also recently received an order of 225 masks from a school for the deaf in New England.
Having a windowed mask was also important to Travers for another personal reason. In May, the 53-year-old underwent cochlear implant surgery. Prior to the procedure, Travers said he had to rely on his wife to communicate what the doctor was saying to him; she lowered her mask so he could read her lips. His goal was to be able to use the face mask at his follow-up appointment to prevent his wife from having to do this again.
Travers’ implant was successfully activated in June. For the first time in 25 years, he was able to hear his wife say the words “I love you.”
“There are no words,” he said of the moment he could hear once more.
“I heard a voice, I thought I heard ‘I love you,’ so I looked at her and she put her hand over her mask so I couldn’t read her lips. She said it again. For the first time, I was able to hear on my own and reply with ‘I love you, too.’ [There is] no better feeling in the world,” he said. “I am tearing up typing this reliving that moment.”
Speaking to the windowed masks, Travers said the project has given him a sense of fulfillment, especially in a time that can often feel bleak.
“They weren’t just simple business transaction orders. They were orders with gratitude. To realize that I made something that will have a powerful positive impact on someone’s life is extremely gratifying. To receive pictures of people, kids, and families wearing the masks and seeing their smiles in something I created is very humbling,” he said. “It inspires me to continue to do more. Numerous people have reached out to us and stated, ‘The world is a better place with people like you in it.’ We are grateful.”
Travers now has a website to order the masks, which you can find here.