9 face masks that are easy to use, even with dexterity issues
If you find yourself fumbling to don your face mask, check out these brands and tips.
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At first, face masks felt like one more thing I needed to fumble with. As an above-elbow amputee, I was struggling to adjust some of the masks I’d bought, and even worse, grappling to put them on. I’d loop it onto one ear, and it would fall off as I was trying to secure it around my other. Finding accessible solutions for something so essential in today’s world was a priority. Maybe one of your hands is occupied, you have dexterity issues, or perhaps, like myself, you simply don’t have two hands.
Whatever your struggle is with mask-donning, below you’ll find some tips and product recommendations that will allow you to up your mask game to the one-hand-friendly level. Keep reading for tips on finding cloth masks, mask accessories, and disposable masks that are perfect for those with disabilities or dexterity issues.
As a reminder, the current CDC mask recommendations call for layered, tightly fitting masks.
Easy mask adjustment is key
Unfortunately a lot of adjustable masks are a challenge to adjust with one hand, making an inclusive-minded adjustment option innately (and ironically) non-inclusive. The nosepiece can “migrate” if it’s not sewn in properly, or it could run the entire length of the mask, becoming rumpled when you stuff it in your pocket. When that happens it can be trying to straighten out the metal using just one hand. When it comes to adjusting the size of the ear loops, most masks rely on one of two mechanisms: ties or adjustable beads.
Ties are a pain because tying things often requires two hands. Adaptations exist, but if I can avoid it, I like to. So if you’re looking for a more accessible solution, I suggest skipping the ties altogether. The masks with the adjustable beads can be extremely difficult to pull on, and if you’re using one hand you’ll probably be using your teeth to pull the loop through the bead. I personally don’t enjoy sacrificing my two front teeth on an adjustable ear loop. Luckily, I’ve discovered a few products that are winners in the one hand-friendly mask category.
Accessible cloth masks
1. The easy-adjust bead
I hadn’t found a mask built with the intention of providing accessibility to more users until the day I ran into Gentleman Mercenary, owned and operated by Law & Order: SVU’s own Diane Neal (aka A.D.A. Casey Novak). No longer defending the people on television, Neal has taken up this project with all profits going toward a foundation to aid victims of stalking and domestic violence—a mask built with intention on many levels. It’s built with a sewn-in nose piece you can pinch or widen using just two fingers to ensure a secure fit.
The ear loops, however, are my favorite part regarding accessible adjustment qualities. Made of a soft polyester with a rounded bead for comfort, it’s very easy to slide the bead up or down. I like to hold the top (or the base depending which way you want to move the bead) of the strap with my teeth or between my knees while seated. Then I slide the bead up or down to adjust the length. It allows you to smoothly adjust the loop without needing a visit from the tooth fairy. Since the CDC recommends multiple layers of tightly woven breathable fabric (regarding fabric masks), these make for a good option seeing as each mask is lined with breathable Kona cotton.
2. The comfortable conforming ear loop
If you’re still not a fan of needing to use your teeth to adjust your mask, you can go for an option with stretchier ear loops that start out smaller but can be stretched larger. The frequent issue with these masks is that they’ll often put pressure behind your ears if you require a wider ear loop. But that isn’t the case with Masqd because the ear loops are extremely soft and stretchy. Since they’re so soft, they won’t hurt your ears if you need a wider ear loop fit. Take it from someone who has big ears. For anyone wanting something more basic, you’ll find more neutrals here. Bonus: their end of season sale is on right now!
3. Perfect-for-layering mask
Since the CDC recommends layering finely woven fabric for more protection, you might want to double up if you’re choosing to go with a thinner mask or one without adjustable features that allow a more secure fit. However if you’re looking to lessen the amount of things you’ll need to fumble with throughout the day, or you've found that layering masks with one hand can become a tangly mess, I suggest choosing two masks with thin straps.
I love the ILYSM masks because the ear loops are thin, yet made of a very soft recycled knit. You can conjoin the loops from each using the hooks on either side of a mask chain. Like this, they’ll stay together when removing them and you won’t need to detangle or worry about one ear loop or the other constantly coming loose. Also, the discreet logo on these serves as a directional pointer to make sure you’re not needing to rotate your doubled masks to make sure they’re facing the right way.
At first I thought mask chains were just another cash grab born out of the pandemic. But they’re actually so useful. A mask chain is especially great when you’re in a situation where you’re constantly taking your mask on and off. For me this is when I’m in places such as an outdoor mall, putting it on to go inside stores and off when outside. It keeps my mask within reach without me needing to pull it in and out of a pocket or bag.
4. Maisonette Mask Chains
I love these because they have large hooks that are easy to open if you have trouble with your hands. The choices here are endless. They range from very simple to very colorful.
5. Smitn Bebe Cocomolo Mask Chain
The huge plastic lobster hooks here are great if you struggle with hand strength.
6. Heather Marie & Co Mask “Chains”
These are great for anyone who might have sensory issues and want something softer than beads or chains. You get to choose which clasp works best for you. If you struggle with hooks, there’s an alligator clip option.
The bonus with disposable masks is that the straps are often thinner which makes them easier to loop over your ear with one hand. The downside is that they often need to be unfolded or, worse, excavated from their individual plastic wrappings. My main tips with disposable masks are as follows:
- Go for ones that are not individually wrapped.
- Or, if you like the individually wrapped ones, go for something that has a groove or perforation in the packaging so you can tear it open easily. Since the packaging details aren’t usually included in product descriptions, I’m including a couple one hand-friendly individually wrapped options below.
- Avoid anything that requires you to tie it behind your head.
The CDC recommends using these types of ties vs. ear loops for improved protection. But the CDC also encourages layering a disposable mask underneath a cloth mask for better protection. I find this much more accessible if you’re using only one hand. The ILYSM masks mentioned above are a good cloth mask to use in this combo since the straps are thinner. Note that you can hook them together using the mask chain method.
7. Disposable Face Protective Face Masks - Unicorn Star Pattern
These masks come individually wrapped but the groove in the wrappers helps you open them with ease using your teeth (sorry dentists).
8. Disposable Face Masks in 10 Colors (100 Pack)
These all come unwrapped and ready to grab and go. Use a mask chain to link two together and double up!
9. Individually Wrapped KN95 Masks (50 pack)
These come individually wrapped in plastic casings you can open using one hand and no teeth (let them eat cake instead). I hold down the plastic wrapper on a table with my thumb and use my index and middle fingers to lift up the flap.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.