The push for boosting the supply of face masks for healthcare workers treating people during the coronavirus outbreak has people thinking out of the box. Businesses such as Gap, Inc. and other manufacturers are changing their production lines to make face masks and scrubs. Yet, even though these efforts are phenomenal, a college student in Kentucky noticed an issue not being addressed with the surge in demand for protective face masks. The typical design of these masks poses a great challenge for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
“I felt like there was a huge population that was being looked over,” Ashley Lawrence told Lexington’s WLEX-TV recently. “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.”
Fittingly, Lawrence is studying education for the dear and hard of hearing at Eastern Kentucky University.
The problem with typical face masks, according to Lawrence, is that many people in the deaf and hard-of-hearing community use American Sign Language to communicate. And, while ASL is performed primarily with finger and hand gestures, facial expressions are critical in conveying context and meaning to those using it.
“For anyone who uses speech reading, lip reading, anybody like that,” Lawrence told WLEX-TV. “And people who are profoundly deaf who use ASL as their primary mode of communication. ASL is very big on facial expressions and it is part of the grammar.”
To help overcome the basic mask design problem, Lawrence decided to get creative and create a new mask prototype to meet these special needs by adding a clear plastic shield over the mouth area. She and her mom got out some fabric and the sewing machine and got to work!
Lawrence initially posted a fundraiser on GoFundMe to help with supplies and distribution of these new masks, which she offered for free to anyone in her community who needed them. Lawrence quickly reached her fundraising goal, bringing in $3,387 in donations, and decided to transition to a new phase with her masks. She hopes to post tutorials on YouTube to get others busy making them.
“Thank you so much for everyone’s love and support for this project,” Lawrence posted her GoFundMe page. “At this time, we are no longer accepting donations, as we have met our goal. Thank you all who have donated and who have reached out wanting to donate. The tutorial for the masks will be posted to YouTube hopefully by end of week, so please make your own for your own community!”
So, if you’re interested in lending a hand, keep an eye out on YouTube for the tutorial soon!