Amid pandemic, Kentucky college senior makes masks for deaf and hard of hearing community

Amid pandemic, Kentucky college senior makes masks for deaf and hard of hearing community

As people in the United States continue to adapt and brace ourselves for the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, many people are starting to make masks at home. Among other reasons, people are making masks in order to be better protected while running errands or going to still-essential jobs. One college student in Kentucky is making masks to help a particularly vulnerable, and too often overlooked, community. The 21-year-old student at Eastern Kentucky University is crafting masks for the deaf and hard of hearing community, as reported by LEX 18. And she’s doing it for free.

Like most college students, Ashley Lawrence—who is studying education for the deaf and hard of hearing—moved back home amid the pandemic. The creative masks, which incorporate a plastic shield to reveal the wearer’s mouth, are intended to help “anyone who uses speech reading, lip reading, anybody like that,” according to the college senior. The masks could assist people who use American Sign Language as well, Lawrence said, adding to the outlet: “ASL is very big on facial expressions and it is part of the grammar.”

And how are they made? Lawrence is working with her mom to sew the masks at home. At this time, they’ve used bed sheets and plastic fabric rolls they had on hand already. 

“I felt like there was a huge population that was being looked over because they were, we’re all panicking right now and so a lot of people are just not being thought of,” Lawrence explained. She says she has received orders from six states already. She added that she and her mother are “trying different things too for people with cochlear implants and hearing aids if they can’t wrap around the ears.” 

In the bigger picture, many disability advocates are deeply concerned about how people with disabilities will fare during the ongoing public health crisis. As reported by ProPublica, some disability advocacy groups are concerned that people with intellectual disabilities will not receive fair life-saving treatment. Others are worried that the treatment and equipment they use regularly, like ventilators, will become inaccessible amid rationing. 

As Ariella Z. Barker wrote in a must-read op-ed for The Boston Globe, “it must be clear to us and the nation that disabled lives matter.” For Forbes, Keah Brown wrote movingly about the frustrating hypocrisy of companies switching to remote work due to the virus while so frequently denying disabled people the same access most of the time.  

You can check out an interview with Lawrence below. People can order masks by emailing her at dhhmaskproject@gmail.com.

Have you noticed any creative approaches to community care in your area? 

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