Versailles, KY, student Ashley Lawrence has channeled quarantine time into making specialized 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?” explained the 21-year-old Kentuckian college senior. Lawrence is studying education for the hearing impaired and spotted the gap.
“I felt like there was a huge population that was being looked over,” Lawrence said. “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.” She also explained why these masks — which sport a transparent plastic window in the front to enable lip-reading — are so important:
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.
Lawrence recruited her mother to the project, and the two started with their own bedsheets. “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. So luckily we haven’t needed any supplies yet.”
“We’re trying different things for people with cochlear implants and hearing aids if they can’t wrap around the ears,” Lawrence continued. “We’re making some that have around the head, and around the neck.” But while Lawrence has a GoFundMe available for those who would like to support her efforts, she refuses to charge for the masks themselves.
“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. “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.”