High school student makes clear face masks to help deaf and hard of hearing communicate

Eric Kim, a high school student in Portland, Ore., says he is "really happy to have found something specific that I can do for the community during these dangerous time." (Credit: Eric Kim)

Face mask usage is more of a norm and less of a niche during the COVID-19 pandemic, with cities and states recommending that individuals don protective facial coverings before heading outside. 

But amid the new measures to protect public health, the deaf and hard of hearing have encountered some difficulties. Members of the community often rely on lip-reading to communicate, making it difficult to share thoughts, messages and ideas while wearing an opaque mask.

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Eric Kim was determined to help address this problem. The Portland, Ore. high school student said that he volunteered within the deaf and hard of hearing community — including  the Tucker Maxon School, an educational institution dedicated to teaching children who are deaf and hard of hearing, as well students with standard hearing — where he witnessed just how important facial expressions and lip movement are when the deaf and hard of hearing communicate with one another.

“Because of the time I spent at the school, I wondered how those kids were going to be able to communicate if they even got those masks,” Kim said.

Kim would hear about Ashley Lawrence,  a Kentucky college student making clear masks for the deaf and hard of hearing, and was inspired to lend his support to the cause. 

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“When I contacted her, and she said that there was a super high demand for those clear masks that were impossible to keep up with, so I thought this would be a great way for me to help our local community,“ the Sunset High School student said.

To make his masks, Kim said he uses cotton-based fabric, pipe cleaners for nose adjustment, elastic for mask string, and clear vinyl fabric for the clear part of the mask. 

“I've made and shipped 17 masks so far. They took me 3 hours originally so I was pretty slow but I've gotten to about an hour per mask now!” Kim said, noting that demand for his masks has increased substantially since being featured on local news.

Kim currently has a GoFundMe page where people can donate to help in his creation of the masks. Over $2,300 had been raised as of April 24 for Kim’s cause, and he said that any leftover money not used for making masks will be donated to Portland’s deaf and hard of hearing community.

To help address the new demand, Kim has enlisted the help of his friends Mason Lee and Derrick Cha. While the popularity of his masks came as a surprise, the student is happy to be making a difference.

“I'm really happy to have found something specific that I can do for the community during these dangerous times,” Kim said. “ I've learned a lot from hearing about so many different people who have reached out to me with their stories.”

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