"Deaf people really rely on expression and facial cues, and a lot of hard of hearing individuals rely on lip reading," tells PEOPLE
Rafi Nova x Millicent Simmonds
Credit: Jackelin Slack Photography

Millicent Simmonds' summer was supposed to be a lot different.

The 17-year-old deaf actress, known for her roles in Wonderstruck (2017) and A Quiet Place (2018), was set to be seen in the sequel to the latter horror-thriller this year, but due to the pandemic that didn't happen. With John Krasinski's film delayed to 2021, Simmonds made the most of her time in quarantine by giving back to her community.

Simmonds partnered with fair-trade fashion brand, Rafi Nova, to design the Millie Smile Mask, a custom transparent mask that restores visual cues like lip-reading and facial expressions to communication. Net proceeds from the masks are being donated to the non-profit organization Deaf Women of Color and Loving Hands and Hearts based in Texas, which helps parents of children who are deaf.

As Simmonds tells PEOPLE, "Deaf people really rely on expression and facial cues, and a lot of hard of hearing individuals rely on lip reading."

'A Quiet Place Part II' Star Millicent Simmonds Used the Spa to Heal Injured Feet After Filming
Credit: Getty Images

As COVID-19 cases continue to spread in the U.S., face masks have been proven to reduce the risk of infection. Masks, however, remove vital visual cues that 14% of Americans who suffer from hearing loss depend upon in order to communicate effectively.

Simmonds' custom masks aren't solely designed to be worn by the deaf and hard of hearing communities, the actress says.

"In fact, the hearing community are the ones we really need wearing the masks because, like I mentioned, a lot of deaf individuals are the ones that rely so much on lip reading and expression," she says. "It would help to have these masks everywhere. Hospitals, grocery stores, nursing homes etc...There are over 400 million deaf and hard of hearing people worldwide! That's a lot of us!"

Designed by both Millie and a speech-language pathology clinical fellow, the mask features a wide transparent panel and custom floral print.

And as for A Quiet Place Part II, which is set to open April 23, 2021, Simmonds tells PEOPLE, " I'm so glad I got to see it a couple of times before this all happened! I'd be so sad if I had to wait another year to see it. Having seen it, it makes me more excited for it to come out!"

The Millie Smile Mask is available for purchase on RafiNova.com.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDCWHO, and local public health departmentsPEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.