Read My Smile

Lions make masks lip-reading friendly

Dennis Dulniak says his Florida Lions club took a Florida COVID-19 lemon and made lemonade. It’s turned out to be pretty sweet.

Over five weeks the Lions of District 35-O made and distributed more than 600 clear face masks free to family, friends, and associates of deaf and hearing impaired in central Florida.

But it’s not just lip readers who need the clear masks.

Lions wearing clear face mask
Lion Dennis Dulniak models one of the clear face masks the Lions of District 35-O are sewing to make it easier on those who rely on reading lips or seeing facial expressions.

Dulniak, an Oviedo-Winter Park Lion, has been amazed as requests for clear masks come in from the elderly and their caregivers, hospices, retirement homes, special education teachers, and more.

Even people with hearing aids have difficulty hearing a voice that is muffled by a mask, he says. Then add social distancing and the problem worsens. Teachers also point out that their students rely on facial expressions, not just spoken instruction in learning, and standard masks make communicating difficult, especially for their special education students.

The Lions’ project began when Dulniak and club members heard about a hearing-impaired girl who reported missing 60 to 75% of what was told to her because she relies on reading lips — lips that are now covered by masks.

They immediately began working to design and create a mask featuring a fog-proof plastic window over the mouth, and news of their work spread rapidly on national public radio and in an Orlando medical publication. Requests for masks started pouring in not only from Florida residents but from people coast to coast. He does not expect the demand to slow down as schools open and the pandemic continues.

Lion sews clear face mask
It takes Lions like Liz Savage 10 to 15 minutes to sew each clear face mask. Not all seamstresses are Lions, but according to Dulniak, they are all “prospects”

A retired university registrar and secretary to Lions District 35-O Hearing Board, Dulniak now works on the project six to eight hours a day from home, with help from club members who assist on data entry. Originally they were harvesting plastic from the shields, which they also send out. But just recently he received a shipment of fog-proof plastic sheets that will save money and enable them to make more than 14,000 masks. Will they use them? He thinks so as encouragement to wear masks continues nationwide.

Four men in his club volunteer their time cutting the fabric and plastic, and 14 women, about half of them Florida Lions, are providing the cotton fabric and voluntarily sewing the masks. One man attempted to sew but was told by the women he was too slow. It takes the women 10 to 15 minutes to sew one.

Only half of these voluntary seamstresses are Lions. The others are what Dulniak calls “Lion prospects.”

He says, “If you’re not a Lion, you’re a prospect.”

A variety of clear Lion face masks
Lions hope to make more than 14,000 new clear face masks with their recent shipment of fog-free plastic sheets.

A woman from Massachusetts offered to help sew masks, so the pattern was sent to her. They could use more like her, and he is more than willing to share their pattern.

The Lions are trying to serve individuals and families in need, referring publicly funded organizations and groups to the open market where a clear mask online sells for roughly US$20. Postage can be a large expense for the Lions, and donations are always appreciated.

Dulniak says he does not mind spending his days on an important endeavor like this. His wife is in a memory care home, and because of COVID-19, he cannot visit.

“For me that loss is replaced by this chance to do something good,” he says. “It’s such a heartwarming project, it brings me joy. This is what Lions do.”

Interested seamstresses and sewers can email

The request form for masks/shields is available here.