Ford Motor Co. is seeking N95 status for its clear face mask design from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Once approved, the product is expected to become available this spring, the company announced Tuesday. 

Ford Motor Co. clear face mask, N95 respirator, patent-pending
The respirators may aid those with hearing loss to read lips that are often blocked by conventional cloth and filtered masks, Ford said.

The transparent, reusable respirator has received a patent-pending approval and originally was designed with healthcare workers in mind, Will Brick, design prototype lead, told the Detroit Free Press. Wearers can “share facial expressions and bring some humanity back to our conversations and encounters with people,” he said. “A simple human thing like a smile has been absent so many months now.”

The mask also is expected to benefit people with hearing loss while pandemic mitigation measures remain in place, Ford said in a statement. The respirators “enable a full range of human expression … aiding those with hearing impairments to read lips that are today blocked by conventional cloth and filtered masks,” it said.

Clear surgical masks and masks for the general public are already available, but a federally approved, clear N95 particle-filtering respirator could be a game changer for people with hearing loss, advocates say. 

“This is what we all have been hoping for — that someone would take a serious lead in designing masks that allow for communication for people with hearing loss, that are also safety approved,” Barbara Kelley, executive director, Hearing Loss Association of America, told McKnight’s Clinical Daily. “We will still need an awareness campaign to encourage people in the general public to wear them,” she added. 

Ford will continue to test the respirators design for effectiveness in blocking airborne particles while it awaits a federal verdict on N95 designation. 

“It is unclear at this time whether they will be sold or donated,” the Free Press reported.

In related news

Biden team considering whether to send masks directly to Americans President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 response team is weighing whether to send masks directly to American households, according to NBC. It’s an action that previously was explored but not pursued by the Trump administration. The response team is vetting the “logistics of mailing out millions of face coverings,” but a proposal hasn’t yet gone to Biden for final approval, the news outlet reported. “There are a range of options on the table to help protect more Americans from the coronavirus and encourage people to mask up, but no decision has been made,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told NBC.