Professor Creates Face Mask with an Accessible Design

Americas, Universal Design, April 14 2020

USA: On Friday, President Trump announced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends people in the United States wear face coverings in public to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. The additional public health measure is not a substitute for social distancing but is mainly to prevent those who have the virus — and might not know it — from spreading it to others.

Face mask pattern cutting

The Washington Post talked to Grace Jun, assistant professor of fashion at Parsons School of Design and chief executive of Open Style Lab, who wrote this pattern after consulting with the New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities and the NYU Langone Medical Center. “Accessible design,” Jun said, “is better design.”

View the step-by-step accessible design face mask tutorial

In making this pattern, Jun used a tightly woven quilting cotton fabric or a cotton fabric with a high thread count. A 2013 study published in the journal Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness found that well-fitting, homemade masks made of cotton T-shirts provide some protection from droplet transmission, the method by which the coronavirus is spread.

Jun has also designed a companion mask made of vinyl, which would make it easy to wipe down and disinfect. The see-through vinyl would also leave one’s mouth visible when communicating with someone who’s hearing impaired.


Grace Jun explains how she created her mask pattern

In New York City a couple weeks ago, at the epicenter of this country’s coronavirus crisis, Grace Jun received an urgent phone call from a friend who needed a face mask. The conversation was not just a case of one friend venting to another. Jun specializes in adaptive design — creating products that can be used by people with a range of disabilities. And her buddy, Christina Mallon-Michalove, has a motor neuron disease that not only compromises her breathing but also has paralyzed her arms and shoulders.

After sending her one of the last disposable masks she had, Jun got to work on something reusable.

She designed a face covering — one that can be stitched up at home, one that aims to offer a better fit for a wider range of faces than the standard pleated variety. Jun’s mask isn’t medical-grade and it doesn’t replace the rules about social distancing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But now that the White House has issued guidance urging people to wear face coverings in public, Jun offers what she hopes is a more inclusive, do-it-yourself option — one that she advises could be stitched from washable fabric, or even a clear shower curtain, which would make it easy to wipe down and disinfect. The see-through vinyl would also leave one’s mouth visible when communicating with someone who’s hearing impaired.

“Even if you don’t have a sewing machine, I think anyone could make it,” Jun says. “If you can’t sew, you could use staples or safety pins.”

There are countless iterations of face coverings to be had online: plain cotton, floral prints, even sequined ones — which may be a bigger dose of fashion than one really wants from something that is hopefully very, very temporary. There are myriad YouTube tutorials on how to make them.

Jun’s consideration of how a mask interferes with lip-reading is a natural extension of her day job. As an assistant professor at Parsons School of Design, she teaches a course in clothing construction that asks students to incorporate the needs of consumers who use wheelchairs, some of whom have limited use of their arms or who don’t have a great deal of manual dexterity. Jun is also the chief executive of Open Style Lab, an incubator for accessible and fashionable clothing designs, wearable technology and other universally usable products. Mallon-Michalove is on the board of the nonprofit, which was established in 2014.

What’s the future of adaptive design? That’s the question that Open Style Lab poses. “There really isn’t a tangible example unless you make it,” Jun says. This health crisis has magnified a host of financial, racial and social disparities. Jun didn’t want the needs of disabled people to go wholly unacknowledged.

“If you look at these types of things, the disabled community is the most ignored. And that includes aging,” Jun says. “We’re all going to face the disability of aging.”

A mask doesn’t have to be another hurdle.

— Robin Givhan

Originally Published on the Washington Post

Share this post: