Coronavirus Pandemic: This College Student Invented a Face Mask For the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
By Antoinette Bueno
Ashley Lawrence via GoFundMe
A college student in Kentucky is looking out for the hard of hearing community during the coronavirus pandemic.
NBC-affiliate LEX18 reports that Eastern Kentucky University senior Ashley Lawrence designed and is now actually producing face masks for those with hearing issues. The project is clearly personal to her, given that the 21-year-old student is studying education for the deaf and hard of hearing.
The masks, which Lawrence and her mother have been sewing using bed sheets and plasic fabric, covers the user's mouth but also has a sheer plastic window that makes the mouth visible to others.
"I felt like there was a huge population that was being looked over," Lawrence tells the local news outlet of the origins of her idea. "We're all panicking right now and so a lot of people are just not being thought of. So, I felt like it was very important that, even at a time like this, people need to have that communication."
Lawrence says the masks are for people who use speech and lip reading, or those that use American Sign Language (ASL) as a form of communication.
"ASL is very big on facial expressions and it is part of the grammar," she explains. "So I don't know if you have seen Virginia Moore on Andy Beshear's things at five o'clock, but she's very emotive, and if half of that is gone because you're wearing a mask then half of what you're saying is being missed, so even if it's not physically talking and just using ASL, then you need to have that kind of access."
"We're trying different things too for people with cochlear implants and hearing aids if they can't wrap around the ears," she adds. "We're making some that have around the head and around the neck."
Lawrence has been making masks for those who reach out to her at the email address firstname.lastname@example.org, and isn't charging for them. She does have a GoFundMe page to offset the costs of the materials and shipping, which states that any money raised that is not used directly for the masks at the end of the health crisis will be donated to Hands & Voices, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting families of children who are deaf or hard of hearing.
"I'm not charging anything for them because I think that if you need them, then you need them and I don't think that you should have to pay for them," Lawrence says. "So we are sending them out for free whenever we have people asking for them and if they're foreign, then maybe we'll charge shipping, but other than that they're completely free."
Face masks have been high in demand to help stop the spread of COVID-19, and some celebrities and organizations are using their resources to help make them available. On Thursday, CBS Boston reported that the New England Patriots plane is flying 1.2 million face masks to Boston from China. Fashion designer Christian Siriano also offered his sewing services after hearing that medical workers were short on masks amid the coronavirus outbreak.