Kentucky college senior Ashley Lawrence is making masks for the deaf and hard of hearing.
“I just saw that people were making masks on Facebook for everyone to have instead of the throwaway masks, and I was like, what about the deaf and hard of hearing population?” the 21-year-old explained, reports Kentucky NBC affiliate Lex18.
“I felt like there was a huge population that was being looked over because we’re all panicking right now, so a lot of people are just not being thought of.”
The masks feature a plastic window over the mouth, so that people who use lip reading and American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate are still able to protect themselves during the pandemic.
Lawrence, who is studying Education for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing at Eastern Kentucky University explains, “ASL is big on facial expressions—that’s part of the grammar… if half of that is gone because you’re wearing a mask, then half of what you’re saying is being missed.”
The CDC does not recommend that those who are sick use homemade masks, but the organization has deemed them acceptable for use and effective in slowing the spread of the virus when worn by healthy people.
After seeing on Facebook that lots of people are constructing their own reusable fabric masks in an effort to alleviate shortages of medical-grade masks needed by vulnerable healthcare care workers, other professionals, and those with compromised immune systems, Lawrence saw an opportunity to get involved.
“We started out making them with bedsheets that we had, and luckily bed sheets are big,” she said. “So we have two or three sets, so we’re making them out of that. Then, a couple months ago we needed plastic fabric for something. And so we have a whole roll of that, and the window is only this big so having a whole roll is very helpful…”
“And my mom really likes to craft, and she’s really good at just picking stuff up and just doing it.”
Lawrence is also designing a mask that wraps around the head instead of the ears, so it can be worn by people with cochlear implants.
In less than two days, Lawrence had received dozens of orders from six states — and she’s doing it all for free.
“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 said.
The college senior hopes others will use their time in quarantine to pitch in during a dire situation.
“If you’re fine, if you’re at home, and you’re not working, do something for someone else that will make you feel good and that will help someone else out in the community.”
To order one of Lawrence’s masks, reach out to her at [email protected], or help her offset production and shipping costs by donating to her GoFundMe. Lawrence plans to donate any extra money not used in the production of masks to organization Hands & Voices, a nonprofit whose mission is to support families of children who are deaf or hard of hearing