A College Student is Making Lip-Readable Face Masks for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing

More so than items like toilet paper and hand sanitizer, the demand for protective face masks has exploded with the coronavirus pandemic. That’s partially due to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) updated recommendation that the general public wear them—not just medical staff and the infected.

However, this creates an increased problem for the deaf and hard of hearing. When the mouth and nose areas are covered by an opaque material, those who rely on lip reading and facial expressions to communicate are compromised. That’s why Eastern Kentucky University senior Ashley Lawrence, who’s studying Education for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, began creating special masks with that population in mind.

On April 1, she created a GoFundMe to raise money for the production of paper masks with a translucent mouth panel. “Many people have been pitching in and creating reusable fabric masks, which the CDC has deemed acceptable for use during these desperate times,” the description read. “Paper masks with clear pieces over the mouth already exist, but like the regular surgical masks, they are in short supply during this crisis.” Other manufacturers of similar masks include Safe ‘N’ Clear and ClearMask, the latter of which, according to their website, were recently granted federal approval for last resort use in medical facilities.

Lawrence’s fund exceeded its goal of $3,000 in less than a week, and she’s now distributing the masks, free of charge, to anyone who needs one, ill or not. “If someone who needs these adaptive masks falls ill, they will have a mask to give to their doctor, so they can communicate more easily with each other,” she wrote.

To be clear (no pun intended), these masks—and the homemade “cloth face coverings” recommended by the CDC—are not nearly as protective as the medical-grade N95 respirator masks that are also in scarce supply. They will, however, “help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others,” per the CDC. Especially because a portion of the infected have been found to be asymptomatic, preventative mask creation and use is crucial right now. But that doesn’t mean an entire group of people deserves to be excluded.

Any additional donations that didn’t directly benefit Lawrence’s mask production was donated to Hands & Voices, a non-profit organization that supports families of children who are deaf or hard of hearing. “Thank you so much for everyone’s love and support for this project! At this time, we are no longer accepting donations, as we have met our goal,” she wrote on her GoFundMe. “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! If you still would like to donate to the cause, please consider donating to a charity for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.”

To request a mask, contact [email protected].

From: Prevention US

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