Queen’s alumna makes masks for Deaf people & hard of hearing

Smile Masks Project donates more than 100 homemade masks

The Smile Masks Project released a YouTube tutorial on July 6 showing people how to make the masks at home.
Smile Masks Project

After masks were made mandatory in all Kingston indoor public spaces on June 26, the community began feeling the need for personal protective equipment that prioritizes accessibility. 

Smile Masks Project, founded by Taylor Bardell, ArtSci ’18, and Matt Urichek, has created a mask with that specific need in mind.

The project offers a mask featuring a transparent panel over the mouth that allows people in the deaf and hard of hearing community who rely on lip-reading to see what is being said through the mask. 

Bardell and Urichek are current PhD students in communication sciences and disorders at Western University.

“[We] were doing our first grocery shop [at the beginning of quarantine] where we wore masks and we were chatting to each other about how strange it was and how difficult it was to hear each other and everyone else,” Bardell told The Journal. “We started thinking: wow, it would be so much more difficult if you relied on lip-reading to communicate.”

After researching the idea, Bardell said they found some patterns online for custom masks with a clear panel. They made some adjustments to the initial pattern to make them better suited to their needs and started producing them from their apartment.

READ MORE: How Queen’s students are aiding in the COVID-19 fight

“We were amazed by how well they worked,” Bardell said. 

The feedback has been “great” so far, according to Urichek, who added they’ve received more requests than expected when they started. The Smile Masks project donated 100 masks in June and are currently managing at least 200 additional requests.

“[S]upport has been through the roof,” Urichek said.

They are currently collecting donations through a GoFundMe page, which had raised $1,260 at the time of publication, surpassing the fundraiser’s goal of $500. All funds collected through the page are used to cover the cost of materials and shipping for the masks.

READ MORE: Recent grads raise money for Black Lives Matter

Bardell and Urichek have recently partnered with Voice, a charitable organization for children who are deaf and hard of hearing, to establish a volunteer system that will help them produce more masks.

They also released a YouTube tutorial on July 6 showing people how to make the masks at home.

“If other people made them as well, that would be fantastic,” Urichek said.

Those interested in getting a mask can contact Smile Masks Project through its Facebook page or through email. 

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