The COVID-19 pandemic has changed all our lives in many ways. However, it hit people with disabilities exponentially harder. They have been neglected in decisions for vaccine distribution; they have been harmed by triage protocols, all while following strict rules on isolation and distancing. Especially people on the autism spectrum have faced many challenges due to the regulations implemented during the pandemic, such as wearing face masks, which might be challenging for some of them. Easterseals Southern California (ESSC) and the company Rafi Nova decided to support people on the autism spectrum by finding a solution for the mask problem. Together, they developed a sensory-friendly mask for children and adults.
Easterseals Southern California, the largest affiliate of the national Easterseals organization, a non-profit dedicated to supporting people with disabilities, teamed up with the socially conscious lifestyle brand Rafi Nova to develop a mask for all children and adults with disabilities who find conventional masks uncomfortable to wear, but especially for people on the autism spectrum.
According to the CDC, 1 in 54 children is on the autism spectrum. Between 2000 and 2016, this prevalence has increased from 6.7 percent to 18.5 percent. Overall, 3.5 million people in the US live with autism, and it is the largest growing developmental disorder in America, as stated by the Autism Society.
Individuals with autism may have sensory processing challenges and therefore struggle with multiple new stimuli, for example, from masks. These stimuli can be related to the fabric’s sensation, the pressure of the tight elastic bands or the heat and moisture from breathing inside the mask. ESSC and Rafi Nova wanted to tackle that challenge and worked together on an innovative, new, sensory-friendly mask.
Over a three-month period, ESSC consulted with more than a dozen of their therapists and other licensed and certified staff and worked with people who receive services from them to create, test and revise multiple prototypes until they found the perfect mask that’s both: comfortable and functional. “There’s little in the marketplace to accommodate people with sensory sensitivities. This soft mask is an outstanding option not only for the autism community, but for all children and adults who I believe will find it uniquely comfortable,” Paula Pompa-Craven, Psy.D., ESSC’s Chief Clinical Officer, states.
Their mask is soft and hypoallergenic with minimal design and limited seaming, so it stays away from the face, and special constructions lift the mask off of the mouth. Additionally, it has an adjustable nose bridge to keep it from slipping and three layers of breathable cotton for safety. A clasp on the back ensures ease of putting on and removal. And as a bonus, it comes with a visual storytelling guide that explains to children why wearing a mask is essential.
Rafi Nova sells the sensory-friendly mask in five different colors on their website for 14 dollars (child size) and 16 dollars (adult mask). Twenty-five percent of the proceedings are donated to Easterseals.
The company doesn’t only provide sensory-friendly masks; they also sell “Smile Masks,” masks with a clear front window to support communication for deaf people. Rafi Nova is a family-owned business founded by Marissa and Adam Goldstein, who named the company after their two sets of twins: Raya, Efi, Noa and Eyva. During the pandemic, Rafi Nova switched from a fair-trade fashion brand to face masks to help protect families and communities. “Masks must be comfortable and functional for everyone. It’s that simple,” Rafi Nova CEO Marissa Goldstein says.
With their sensory-friendly mask, Rafi Nova wants to broaden their inclusive face coverings designed to protect and reconnect communities.