Eastern Kentucky University student Ashley Lawrence has devised a reusable facial mask which is suitable for the deaf and hard of hearing.
The masks are constructed with a see-through segment over the mouth area. This is to accommodate people with hearing impediments who rely on speech and lip reading.
Sign language itself often relies on facial expressions, which cannot be seen when a person is wearing a standard facial mask.
Deaf community overlooked
There is a general shortage of protective masks world-wide. But it seems little thought has been given to how facial masks would affect 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 Ms Lawrence said.
“I felt like there was a huge population that was being looked over,” she added. “We’re all panicking right now and so a lot of people are just not being thought of.”
Working with her mom, Ashley decided to do something proactive about the situation.
They have been using bed sheets as the predominant material in the design of the facial masks.
For the transparent mouth section, Ashley says that they had bought a roll of plastic fabric a few months ago for another purpose.
“Having a whole roll is very helpful so luckily we haven’t needed any supplies yet,” she said.
Another aspect being looked at is that people with cochlear implants and hearing aids could struggle to properly fit the masks.
No charge for facial masks
Ms Lawrence says she will be giving away the masks for free. She has set up a GoFundMe page to try and cover production costs.
Approximately 3.6% of the United States population – roughly 11 million people, consider themselves deaf or having serious hearing difficulties.