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College student sews face masks designed for the deaf and hard of hearing community

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College senior Ashley Lawrence noticed that many people have started making their own face masks due to the shortage of medical supplies amid the coronavirus crisis. But she didn't see masks designed for the deaf and hard of hearing community — so she decided to sew them herself.

"So right before the pandemic, masks were made and made commercialized to help people with hearing loss have access to their doctor's mouths for lip reading/speech reading," Lawrence said in a Facebook post on Monday. "Because of the shortage of masks, everyone started making their own, so I thought: why not make them for all?? This is how we stay #HealthyatHome"

Lawrence, who said she is a senior at Eastern Kentucky University majoring in deaf education, posted photos of two face mask designs, both with transparent screens around the mouth.

The transparent screens allow those who know how to lipread in the deaf and hard of hearing community to read the lips of the person wearing the mask. The screen also ensures people are better able to see the facial expressions of the wearer, which is important for those communicating using American Sign Language.

Lawrence's Facebook post garnered attention. She said many people reached out to ask for one of her masks. 

"We have been so completely overwhelmed by the response, and pleased that we could do our part to bring awareness to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community," Lawrence wrote in an email sent to CBS News on Thursday, signed the "DHH Mask Project."

Lawrence explained in the email that those involved in her project initially decided to make handmade masks accessible for the deaf and hard of hearing in her local community in Kentucky. She added that they have "no prior experience in sewing" and are working to assemble a group of people to help make the masks, as she said they are now in "high demand."

She also wrote in a separate Facebook post Wednesday that she is setting up a Facebook page for the project "to keep people who are helping up-to-date."

While those involved in the project are working as hard as they can to produce the masks, they won't be able to make all of them themselves, Lawrence said in the email. So she said they will send the pattern and tutorial on how to make them to anyone interested in sewing the masks to distribute in their communities.

Lawrence's homemade masks mimic surgical masks, which protect the person wearing it from large droplets or splashes that may contain viruses, and protect others from the wearer's respiratory emissions, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These masks are different from the so-called N95 respirators that are recommended for health care workers and provide medical-grade protection. 

While Lawrence isn't the first person to make a mask with those in the deaf and hard of hearing community in mind, her post comes at a time when masks and other medical supplies are much-needed commodities to fight the spread of coronavirus. And the demand for supplies is unlikely to dwindle anytime soon — especially in the United States, which is now the global epicenter of the pandemic.

The number of cases continues to grow in America, with more than 242,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and over 5,800 deaths in the country, according to numbers from Johns Hopkins University. However, the government has cautioned the worst of the crisis is still to come. President Trump recently told the U.S. to brace for "a very bad" two or three weeks.

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