Alexandria, VA – When Mary Beth Pagnella was not quite two years old, she suffered a bout of whooping cough that left her with profound hearing loss. Her parents sought medical care for her condition, of course, but also raised her to live and cope in a hearing world.
Pagnella learned to read lips so she could communicate. Her disability didn’t get in her way. She went on to get a bachelor’s degree, followed by a successful career in the fashion and design industry. She fell in love, got married, and was happily expecting her second son in December 2000.
During the delivery, Pagnella developed complications and needed an emergency cesarean section. The doctors and nurses in the room were wearing surgical masks, so she had no idea what was going on or what they were saying. Knowing she was terrified, her husband insisted on not wearing his mask so she could read his lips as he explained what was happening.
Realizing the great need for a see-through mask, Pagnella and her husband applied to the U.S. Patent Office, only to learn there were already similar patents on file. Pushing their design through would cost precious time and money, so they decided not to pursue it.
Enter 2020 and the coronavirus pandemic’s masks and social distancing. It’s hard enough to not hear people, but Pagnella felt further isolated because she couldn’t read lips through the solid masks. Where are the folks with those patents, she wondered? “I was getting tired of asking people to back up and remove their masks so I could read their lips,” she said. “It was so discouraging and frustrating.”
In fact, hearing-impaired people are not the only ones who would benefit from see-through masks. Pagnella said, “Think of teachers being able to express themselves more fully to their students with a see-through mask.”
Realtors have approached her for masks to give to their clients for home visits. Other obvious candidates are beauticians, waiters and waitresses, hotel concierges, airline employees, grocery clerks, even politicians! Anyone working in face-to-face customer service would benefit from these masks. Pagnella already has two Old Town restaurants and some salons interested in buying some of the masks for their staff.
The masks are well made, reasonably priced at $14.99, and Pagnella has new designs on order with the nose-cinch included. Her masks are available for sale through her website, https://readmylipsmasks.com/
Pagnella hopes that her masks will make a big difference not only for the hearing-impaired, but also for anyone. Echoing a sentiment no doubt shared by people everywhere, she said, “It would be nice to be able to stay safe and wear a mask and still see more of everyone’s full facial expressions again.”