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Clear Solution: Student Makes Deaf-Friendly Face Mask To Help Hearing Impaired

Ashley Lawrence is donating clear masks to those who might have a hard time communicating with doctors and their community during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sign languages all over the world, including Australia's Auslan, rely on facial expressions to accurately communicate a message.

Those who rely on lip-reading are also at a loss if people’s faces are covered by face masks during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Lawrence is a 21-year-old U.S. student who is studying education for the deaf and hard of hearing at Eastern Kentucky University.

She has been studying at home because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ashley Lawrence and her mum are making the masks free of charge. Image: Ashley Lawrence

“So right before the pandemic, masks were made and commercialised to help people with hearing loss have access to their doctor’s mouths for lip-reading/speech reading,” she wrote in a Facebook post.

“Because of the shortage of masks, everyone started making their own, so I thought: why not make them for all?”

U.S. start-up ClearMasks began making full-face visibility masks two years ago after founder Allysa Dittmar, who was born deaf, was left terrified of surgery because she could not understand the medical staff wearing masks.

Lawrence and her mum set up a GoFundMe page to buy supplies and pay for mask shipping costs and they were overwhelmed by the support. The fundraiser was closed after it met their $3,387 target.

The mother-daughter duo is making the masks and sending them free of charge, although overseas requests may incur a shipping cost.

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“Even though the CDC (U.S. Centre for Disease Control) does not currently recommend those who are not sick wear masks in your daily life 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,” Lawrence explained on the GoFundMe page.

The masks are made with a clear section over the mouth to allow the wearer's full facial expressions to be seen.

“Those who rely on lip-reading or ASL to communicate are often cut off from their source of communication when doctors and nurses don surgical masks,” Lawrence wrote.

“The solution seemed clear to me. just like there are fabric surgical masks being made, so too does there need to be masks made that are adapted for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

“Paper masks with clear pieces over the mouth already exist, but like the regular surgical masks, they are in short supply during this crisis.

The clear section allows facial expressions to be seen. Image: Ashley Lawrence

Lawrence hopes to upload a YouTube tutorial for the pubic in the coming days so others can make the masks themselves.