The college senior explained that her masks are for anyone who uses speech reading, lip-reading, and people who use ASL as their primary mode of communication.
A college senior from Versailles, Kentucky has taken up a project to help a group that has largely been overlooked in this crisis. Like most of her peers, 21-year-old Ashley Lawrence—a senior studying education for the deaf and hard of hearing at Eastern Kentucky University—is currently back at home due to the novel Coronavirus outbreak. Spending a lot of her time on social media, Lawrence came across videos and photos of individuals making reusable masks to help out with the drastic shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).
"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?" she explained to Kentucky NBC affiliate Lex18. "I felt like there was a huge population that was being looked over. 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 enlisted the help of her mother to come up with a solution for her concerns and the two soon put their crafting abilities to the work.
"We started out making them with bedsheets that we had, and luckily bed sheets are big," Lawrence explained. "So we have two or three sets so we're making them out of that. Then, a couple of 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 so luckily we haven't needed any supplies yet." Fully committed to her mission of helping the deaf and hard of hearing population, this young woman is going the extra mile to make sure she considers everyone's needs.
"We're trying different things for people with cochlear implants and hearing aids if they can't wrap around the ears," she shared. "We're making some that have around the head and around the neck." Lawrence revealed that the need for a plastic window on the masks is one of the main reasons for her taking up the project. She explained that her DHH-friendly masks are "for anyone who uses speech reading, lip reading, anybody like that 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. 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," she said. Lawrence has seen an incredible response to her project, receiving dozens of orders from six states in less than two days. "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," she revealed.
"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," Lawrence added. Those looking for such masks can reach out to this young lady at email@example.com. You can also support Lawrence's project by donating to her GoFundMe which has been set up to offset the costs of materials, shipping, etc. Any extra money raised that does not go into the production and supply of these masks will be donated to Hands & Voices—a non-profit, parent-driven organization dedicated to supporting families of children who are deaf or hard of hearing.